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MSU Grad to Open Art Show in NYC

A former Missouri State art student has her first solo exhibit of paintings opening in New York City this week. KSMU's Randy Stewart has this profile.

RANDY: Where are you from originally?TERESA DUNN: I grew up in Murphreesbuoro, IL. I didn’t originally major in art. I went to Missouri State when it was SMS, majoring in math, and I was a math major for two years. And there was a point at which I realized that, although I like it and I was good at it, it wasn’t my passion. And I took a few drawing classes and realized where my passions truly did lie, and was just really fortunate to be there at that time when there were some really wonderful professors that were my mentors. So it was kind of a coincidence that I found myself in Springfield.RANDY: How did that passion, the interest for art—where di d that come from? Had you always had that, or…?TERESA: Oh, definitely. Since I was a little girl I was always drawing and really encouraged by my parents to draw and paint. When I was a kid my dad would paint with me. And they really fostered that creative drive in me when I was a child. It’s just that, until I was in college I hadn’t really considered it as a way of life or a career path.RANDY: Did either of your parents study art?TERESA: No, I would say they’re both very creative people, but they were not artists in the “formal” sense. My dad plays the piano and has been a hobby painter, and my mom has also done hobby painting and does sewing. But I wouldn’t call them “artists” necessarily.RANDY: Now, I think it’s probably best for people to go to your website, to actually view your work, but I’d like for you to talk about the kind of quirky—I think it’s kind of quirky, anyway!—narrative style in a lot of your paintings and your drawings. It’s kind of whimsical, it’s a little peculiar sometimes, or there’s a lot of absurdity, there’s a lot of… a lot of animals mixed in with the humans. Although some, like your Italian series, seem a lot more straightforward. So what influenced you in developing this particular style of yours? And even, what would you call your style?TERESA: Well, I’m not sure that I think about it having a particular name, although if I think about the things that I associate myself with, both in terms of painting and literature… well, I guess if you have read Gabriel García Márquez for example, and the “magical realists” writings, then I see my paintings as having a lot in common with that, where the characters inside the paintings don’t see anything out of place with the peculiar “reality”—it’s just a part of the way things are. Or if you consider how dreams have just absurd events, but when you’re in the space of a dream it feels believable, ordinary. So I see my paintings existing in that kind of space, where the absurd is made normal. But if you’re talking about how I classify my paintings, I think I just really think of them as “narrative figure paintings.” I’m not sure if I could think of a word stylistically to describe them. I do appreciate the words that you’ve chosen to describe them—“absurd” or “peculiar”. And there’s something about an image or an event that, when there is either something happening that kind of sparks our interest or makes us think more deeply about ourselves or reflect on our own lives when we see how things are out of place, or it’s that moment of realization that something’s a little bit off-kilter, and it draws the viewer in. And then hopefully it gets at something that—I don’t know if “truth” is the right word, but about a deeper investigation of the Self through the “scenic route,” instead of going directly there.RANDY: It’s basically all about providing—even in some of the more dreamlike or “absurd” views of life that you present—you’re providing any number of different ways for people to relate to what they’re seeing on the canvas.TERESA: Absolutely. And I think not just with the “absurd” things that are included, but the potential for animals or food to have their own societal, symbolic representations, or the way that things are paired against each other to operate as a metaphor. And there are numerous different kinds of avenues for viewers to bring their own personal histories, as well as our shared “community” history. And so there definitely are different ways that people can approach the narratives and explore ideas about identity or relationships.RANDY: Now, you mentioned professors here at MSU that you were inspired by… now you’re teaching. You’ve had this Assistant Professorship of Painting at Michigan State for what, five years?TERESA: Yeah, I’m at the end of my fifth year here in East Lansing at Michigan State.RANDY: Had you contemplated teaching at the university level when you started this whole thing?TERESA: As I advanced in my studies, finishing my undergraduate degree, grad school was the next option, or the most obvious conclusion. And then, doing my MFA, that teaching was a way to keep engaged in the kind of exciting energy of the contemporary art world, while at the same time also helping to foster young people in the way that I was really mentored. It seems like a natural cycle, and a completely comfortable position for me to be in. So I didn’t plan it beforehand, but it really feels like the right steps to have made.RANDY: Well, the real reason I’m talking to you right now is because you’re about to open your first—this is your first-ever exhibit in New York City?TERESA: I’ve shown some paintings in group shows in New York, but this is my first solo exhibition in New York City, and I’m really proud and excited to show this body of work, which I believe to be my strongest, most cohesive group of paintings to date. And hopefully it will also be received well in the City by other artists and critics and reviewers as well.RANDY: “If winter were spring we could unbury the sun, but the winds come anyway….” That’s actually the name of one of the paintings in the group, but you’ve called the exhibit itself “But the winds come anyway….” What can you say, what can you tell us about that and what it means?TERESA: That painting is an allegory of the seasons, and each of the main characters as you go from left to right represents a season. So we start off with Old Man Winter on the left, and then there’s Springtime, and Fall, and moving to the central character, Summer, in a swimsuit in the very center of the painting. In the last couple of years I’ve thought a lot about different ways of using metaphor to talk about relationships or the human condition, and thinking about seasons and cycles and inevitable change, and the things that are out of our control. But also, ideas about birth, renewal, death… not just in the literal way that we born and die, but changes in our lives and how we navigate through different cycles of life. And part of that has also come from thinking about seasons as metaphors—moving around to different parts of the country, I was in Texas for a couple of years before I came up to Michigan, and the shock of going from extraordinarily hot summers to extraordinarily long and cold winters gave me some pretty fertile ideas about how to use the seasons.RANDY: Now, are the rest of the paintings in the exhibit related to this idea specifically, or just very tangentially or generally?TERESA: A few of the paintings also are directly related to the idea of “seasons”: “Veiled in a frosty mist until winter turns” is one of those. But they’re not all necessarily related directly to a… you couldn’t necessarily identify “winter,” “spring,” “summer” or “fall”—but the idea of “cycles”. The show opens actually on May 24th, the opening reception is Thursday the 26th, and it’s open through June 19. So if your listeners happen to be in New York during that time, I would love it if they could stop by.RANDY: That’s at the First Street Gallery on West 26th Street in the Chelsea district of Manhattan.