Kathryn Dunlevie at Hooks-Epstein
by Garland Fielder
ArtLies, No. 58, Summer, 2008
The fracturing of reality, or at least the notion of reality, is such a common trope that it comes as a surprise when an artist can still gain purchase from this well-trodden conceit. But Kathryn Dunlevie manages to just that in Matter Unmasked. While not groundbreaking, Dunlevie’s photomontages convey a painterly sensitivity that adheres to more than an underlying interest in aesthetical structure. Her seemingly fast and loose reassembling of photographs depicts impressionistic vignettes that also borrow heavily from analytic cubism. These works are intelligent, glamorous and structurally unique.
Dunlevie achieves this in part through her methodical attention to detail. Severed photographs are reassembled in a sort of quasi-fractal manner and then lacquered heavily. The finishing touch is her treatment of the periphery. Wooden supports extend slightly beyond each image and the artist paints the remainder to match the photographs. While this detail barely registers, it conveys a background in painting and a sustained respect for surface quality.
The work commingles an interest in alternative interpretations in geography (both organic and manmade) with a playful sensibility. Exotic scenery dissolves into abstract vistas that employ an internal logic all their own. Dunlevie’s mosaic-like surfaces are composed of travel pictures from such locales as Paris and Santa Monica–the artist’s “scrap pile” of leisure-time documentation. In this, the nod toward impressionists like Renoir and Seurat is striking. Today, however, it is a tough trick to pull off a convincing universe of a jet-setting lifestyle without imbuing it with ever-looming irony, but these works do not come off as superficial or indulgent. An interest in formal composition and color relationships is also ubiquitous. Along with the acts of fracturing and restructuring, this adds weight to the artist’s overall approach.
In Les Longues Vacances, Dunlevie composes a sort of balmy, resort-like apparition populated by repeated beachcombers, and a fictional perspective is achieved in a seamless manner. However, the interjection of an unadulterated billboard dominating the right portion of the image is jarring enough to keep the work from succumbing to a narcissistic vibe. The awkward bulk of the billboard draws attention to the fact that the artist is not afraid to implement a disruptive voice into carefully constructed patterning. This is important in that the work could otherwise take its own aesthetic too seriously, thereby suffering from its own beauty.
Presenting an interloper helps maintain a foreboding presence. The same billboard is placed in another composition: Translien SNCF. This tactic–to cannibalize images and reassert them again and again–helps establish a duplicity sometimes ignored in photography. It is as though Dunlevie has such a grasp of the nature of the medium, she is able to playfully subject content to its real essence, which is contrivance itself.
These works are slick enough to be attractive to even the least demanding of collectors, but it would be inaccurate to let assessment stop at Dunlevie’s formal prowess. The reconstruction of representational environments can only be interesting when an artist can convince the viewer of its authenticity through unexpected juxtapositions and an adherence to a unifying aesthetic. Dunlevie succeeds with Matter Unmasked.