REVIEWS & ESSAYS

Reviews:

All the Open Space, Sears-Peyton Gallery Press Release, New York, NY 2014
ARTnews Review, by Doug McClemont, April 2012
Sojourn, Sears-Peyton Gallery Press Release, New York, NY 2012
Paint Layered Over Poetry, The New York Times, May 2001
From Different Palettes, Texture, Color and Light, The New York Times, April 2003

Essays by:

Susan L. Weller Warren Zanes Kimberly Whinna

In the Drenched Earth

Susan L. Weller, 2009

At first glance, the recent paintings by Shawn Dulaney are images that are arresting and simply convey beauty. At second glance, the presence of the paintings manifests and projects a space that situates and orients the viewer in a manner distinctly different than most paintings. Within this spatial projection, the viewer’s body is engaged; the body senses what the paintings effect and not solely what is seen. The images shift to environments, positioning the viewer’s body as a conduit for experience. Awareness of the presence of one’s body within the environment of a painting gives rise to an integration of sensing, feeling, and thought. Shawn’s agency, her means and process of making paintings, brings forth a holistic engagement with the viewer, similar to the sensory shift that takes place when one is walking in a natural environment and experiences immersion.

Shawn has a reverence for place. A place, simply put, is where somebody or something can be in, can inhabit. She travels to find places, waterfalls at Yosemite National Park, plateaus that skirt the Rocky Mountains, and waves off the west coast of Ireland. The places Shawn chooses to paint are not meant to be representational but instead register what a place elicits and her relation to it. From her memories of a place, she extracts qualities, energies, feelings, and thoughts to bring to painting. Shawn synthesizes these experiences as she is painting, taking a reductive approach to making an image by means of the physical act of dripping, brushing, splashing, stroking, layering, or gliding with a squeegee. She imbues paint with the complex qualities of emotive energy such as desire, joy, grief, and longing. By reducing the representational image of a place, she gives the medium of paint a physicality that embodies the kinetic energies of a place: flow, light, wave, electricity, or solid, for instance. These energies transmute, creating an interplay within nearly all of her paintings. In Moonlight, the waterfall is constantly flowing yet yields to its frozen stasis, the eternal stillness of the deep black night sky moves only when light skirts its edges. These transmutations bring to mind Lao Tzu’s insight: “The heavy is the root of the light; the unmoved is the source of all movement.” What makes the painting seem more vivid, more charged, perhaps more true than a representation of a waterfall or even an actual waterfall?

The two axes of the painting, a vertical waterfall and a horizontal expanse of sky, allow gravity to startle us back to our physical presence, to the fact that the place where we stand is holding us up to be able to look, to sense, and to be conscious of living a relation with the world. Shawn’s paintings are like “thin places”, a Celtic term that in its broadest definition is when the ordinary shifts to the extraordinary, in which case the mystical is said to have been experienced. These paintings are generous – they just keep giving.

 

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Curtain of Water

Warren Zanes, 2007

People respond to the beauty of waterfallls in different ways. Annie Taylor, still in her petticoat (as the fashion of 1901 dictated), was the first to ride Niagra Falls in a barrel. Queen of the Mist, she wrote in white paint on the barrel’s side. Most people don’t take it that far. But there is something in a waterfall that stops us all. Calling them the “voice of the landscape,” painter Thomas Cole celebtrated the waterfall’s marriage of opposites, “unceasing change and everlasting duration.” In Native America traditions waterfalls are spiritual sites, the water forming an opaque curtain behind which the spirits are said to be at work. In the artist’s realm, whether with the photographers of the 19th century geological surveys or the Hudson River School painters, the waterfall is an emblem of the sublime, a trope irrestible to the Romantic imagination.

Shawn Dulaney’s Curtain of Water series embraces the deep symbology of the waterfall—but only to build out from that history. The insistent verticality of the work quickly distinguishes it from the Romatic landscape traditions. Where Cole used the shore’s landmasses to anchor his compositions on the horizontal plane, inadvertently quieting nature’s voice, Dulaney brings us closer, where the water’s rush is a roar. We come so close, in fact, that the waterfall is no longer a facet of the landscape but a felt, immediate experience. It is a strategy that unlocks a different sensory response. Emerge and Into Being, their striking surface densities revealing the histories of their making, use the literal content, the waterfall, to recall for the viewer a place where sound and touch rival sight as a means of orienting oneself. Soundless Sound evokes what is perhaps the most striking proximity to that place of sensory reordering.

Dulaney’s work quickly transcends its literal content. White Voice and The Light exemplify the manner in which the paintings begin with water to arrive at the subject of painting itself. The waterfall’s marriage of stillness and motion, its simulultaneous permanence and flux, is what Dulaney works with in order to address the dual nature of the painterly mark itself, both fixed and fluid. What Dulaney succeeds in doing is to bring the one who stands before the painting into the world of its work.

Behind the Curtain of Water series is an artist with a strong modernist sensibility, every element of her work distilled into what is most essential. Yet Dulaney is also willing to expose the emotional center of her paintings in ways not always common to the vastness and ambition of the modernist project. There is a strength to the work that has led New York Times critic William Zimmer to associate Dulaney’s paintings with those of Mark Rothko—but there is also an openness to Dulaney’s gesture, embodied in her invitation to those who stand before her cavases. She brings her viewer behind the curtain of water, where the spirits are said to work.

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Mirrors & Tides

Kimberly Whinna, 2005

Shawn Dulaney grew up near the base of the Rocky Mountains, in a house whose western-facing side was entirely glass. This window presented her with a constantly changing, epic canvas. She was captivated by what she saw; the shifts of the light, the blurring of the horizon line as rain streamed down the window panes, the changing quality of the air itself, and the way light moved through it. It is this feeling of cumulative time and sensory experience that distinguishes Dulaney’s landscapes. She is not painting a landscape frozen in one moment; instead she is painting the changing spirit of a place.

Dulaney was inspired to paint In a Body Blue from an experience she had in a rainstorm: While on a long summer evening’s walk, Dulaney found herself in the middle of a sudden downpour just as darkness fell. Making her way home through the woods, she was pulled into a current of senses; the dank smell of the damp grass surrounding a flooded river, the sound of raindrops plip-plopping onto ripening leaves and the taste of earth and life that permeates the air on such stormy nights. “I can absorb the soul of a place and then watch it unfold and take form in my work,” says Dulaney. In In a Body Blue, we see Dulaney translate the landscape of that night into an abstracted sensory experience.

The top of the painting is drenched in a velvety indigo field, as drips and drizzles of rain bathe its surface. The indigo stream eventually makes its way to the milky pool below, electrifying it with liquefied bolts of lightening.Hints of kelly green remind us of the lush scents of the forest, and the faint ghosts of underpainted trees are visible in the depths of the watery sky above.

Shawn Dulaney paints on linen stretched over wooden panels. She beings by applying a plaster-like ground to the linen, a practice that is a nod to the ten years she spent as a fresco painter. Then the layering of paint begins. She starts with a solid color and then begins adding and reducing layers of paint.

In In Your Sight, streams of ochre and amber paint trickle down the surface. Some of the drip marks are truncated by swift swipes across the wet surface, while others drizzle undistrubed to the bottom. A broad crimson brushstroke juts in from the lower left-hand corner, assertively and confidently making its mark in the foreground. These many layers of diverse marks create a space for us to enter, as we navigate between the dripping planes.

In paintings like Bouyant, Dulaney leaves behind the idea of specific place and paints a purely spritual landscape. The crystal quality of the gaseous lights evokes thoughts of dusty sunrises or sunsets. The gentle blue forms that poke through this powdery abyss could be moutains or water or clouds. There is a blissful essence to this painting, as rusty red clouds break to reveal this golden, glowing realm.

In Bottomless, the landscape evaporates into a puff of smoke. A brilliant explosion of saffron and white creates a euphoric cloud. Ground has been broken, the horizon line has completely disappeared, and we are left floating in this foggy dream of light and color.

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