Studio Visit – Kyle Vu Dunn
July, 2017, Queens, NY
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, Livonia. It’s a pretty suburban town. My dad’s religion is hunting and being outside, so we went up north a lot and I spent a lot of time outside as a kid.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR CURRENT STUDIO? HOW DID YOU END UP IN NEW YORK?
I’ve been in my current studio for two years, but in my apartment for three–it’s in my building’s basement. I went to school in Baltimore and loved it, the scene there is really fun. When I graduated high school I wanted to make a big change, and I felt the same thing after graduating college. I didn’t want to stay in the same place. There’s more jobs in New York and I had visited a few times, so I’ve been here since I graduated [college] in 2012.
WHAT IS THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND YOUR WORK?
With this most recent work, it’s been about translating dream logic and my insular world into images. The work for the last year has been looking back at my life and my identity as a gay person more than I really realized in the beginning. There aren’t enough images of men acting soft or vulnerable which is something I have been thinking about. As far as the subject matter goes, I feel like it’s personal, emotional states rendered as spaces.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR AVERAGE ART VIEWER CAN TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR WORK?
Although there’s a lot of autobiographical content, I try to combine the color palette and subject matter to get at a specific feeling that I hope is transmitted to the viewer. Or to find an image that really captures a specific emotion. That’s why I don’t often work on two paintings at the same time. Each is a reflection of my life and mental state in the period it’s conceived, so I feel like I can’t work on a sad piece and a piece that’s a little more ambiguous, dreamy, or excited at the same time because my whole production is toward that [one] feeling.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLE IN THE STUDIO?
Scale, more than anything. I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort with it. I really struggle with keeping work small and holding in the widening gyre haha. I’ve been making 8.5 x 11” drawings for 0_0 L.A. Gallery’s Got It For Cheap that’s been helping me to focus in a bit.
The challenge with the relief work is in the carving itself, the rounded forms of the figures–you can only carve so small. And with successive layers of plaster, it becomes kind of like when paint fills up the moldings around doors in an old house, and you start losing the sharp lines.
I’m figuring out ways to work around that. It took me a while to lean more into the illusion between painting and sculpture, where I could take more liberties with carving half of the image and then creating the other half of it in paint. It ends up making a lot of shadow play in my work. So that’s what I’m starting to learn, which will be helpful in making them smaller.
WAS THERE EVER A TIME WHEN YOU STOPPED MAKING WORK OR FELT LIKE YOU COULDN’T KEEP GOING? IF SO, WHAT HELPED YOU TO CONTINUE?
I have that block about one day per week. I have days when I go down to the studio and I don’t want to work, but then when something’s going well I’ll be really excited. I get off work at 7, then come here and work until 1 AM–day after day, so it goes in boom and bust cycles.
I had the large breaks more when I was doing the abstract work. But when you’re telling a story with figurative work, it’s more personally compelling and keeps me going. It feels more connected to the rest of your life.
I also have a tendency to get disinterested in things after I make them–relatively quickly, so I’m really terrified of starting a new show too early because I don’t want to hate it by curtain time!
DO YOU HAVE ANY ROUTINES, RITUALS, OR COPING MECHANISMS YOU USE REGULARLY IN YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE?
I’ve been trying to clean the studio. Usually it looks like an episode of Intervention at the end of the work day, but I’ve been trying to clean it every time I come in. And that helps me look at things and be around them.
I also listen to books on tape a lot in the studio. A good narrator can add an extra creative layer to the story. It’s like another artistic person putting their touch on it. There’s this book by Joyce Carol Oates called Blonde, which is a fictional take on Marilyn Monroe’s life. JCO has a southern gothic tradition of sexual violence and women’s roles in the world. And the voice actor perfectly mimics that cheesy, 1950s Trans-Atlantic voice; like a Bette Davis kind of drawl, which really adds so much to the text. Books on tape keep your mind engaged without a visual distraction.
DO YOU HAVE ANY HOBBIES OR INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE THAT HELP KEEP YOU SANE?
My husband is a carpenter and furniture designer, so I like to rearrange the furniture in the house. Every time my friends come over, it’s different. I’ve painted my living room about a thousand times. So it’s kind of a release.
My friends always make fun of me because my house is always different every time they come over. My great aunt Toots had a color per season in her house. Autumn was burgundy. In winter, it would be blues. She would put new rocking chair covers on. Spring was yellow, summer was green. It seemed like a nice way to mark the time!
DO YOU HAVE ANY PROJECTS OR EXHIBITIONS COMING UP THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROMOTE?
I was just in a group show at Sleep Center in Chinatown, Manhattan. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for the opening performances.
And I have a solo show in Brooklyn at Sardine Gallery in October called “Leaves Don’t Thank the Sun.” I’m still working on those pieces, but I am thinking of a suite of connected paintings whose edges connect and form a kind of loop around the gallery.