Culture Front 5.14.14

By on May 13, 2014
Notions and Happenstance
Notions and Happenstance

Notions and Happenstance

JACKSON, WYO – Drawn to an inward gaze

There’s a lot of tip-toeing, prowling, and foraging in Kaidi Dunstan’s current exhibit, “Notions and Happenstance,” on display through June 21 at Tayloe Piggott Gallery.

I loved this show for many reasons, one being the inward, downward gaze of the figures, which contrasts the upward, outward tendency of our gaze in Jackson Hole. Introspection is not a strong suit of the American West. Our iconic figures of cowboys and trappers are rendered with proud countenances looking to the horizon and new lands to conquer.

Dunstan, a Jackson native who now lives in London, may not be making alternative “Western” figures specifically, but seeing her work in the context of this town offers a rare invitation to look within. While not overtly psychological, Dunstan’s figures can be seen as archetypal. Their gestures and postures evoke universal human themes such as search and discovery, nakedness and covering, weight and light.

In “Happenstance,” a lone figure walking in the woods encounters a dark hole in the ground, perhaps a persephone-sized passageway to the underworld? The forest glows golden and white, humming with life. Yet the figure is drawn to examine the dark.

In “Hunt,” two moonlit figures, again in a forest, mimic birds feeding in the grass. The humans may be ready to scoop up the birds, yet the birds seem unaware of their presence. Both human and avian creatures could be ghosts creeping through darkness. In fact, I thought of the Radiohead song, “Creep,” when I saw this piece. There’s the same dreamy, ethereal quality: “You’re just like an angel, your skin makes me cry, you float like a feather, in a beautiful world.”

Other pieces among Dunstan’s mixed media works seem to be in conversation with famous painters from history.

“Orange Group” takes cues from Gaugin’s paintings of Tahitian women. Though Dunstan’s figures are more abstract, they possess the blocky shapes and still-life quality of Gaugin’s work. Yet in Dunstan’s piece, the female figures have agency; they are artists themselves, subverting the trope of women as decoration.

“Muybridge Men,” “Hunt,” and “Rock” all made me think of Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Gleaners,” a painting famous for elevating the work of the commoner as worthy subject matter. Again, Dunstan’s work is more abstract and thus open to interpretation. What is it that fascinates Dunstan with the form the human body takes when it bends to pick something up? Repeatedly we see this gesture in her work. Gleaning, gathering, noticing.

“We try to connect to other bodies in different ways, building bridges between us, some fleeting, others complex,” Dunstan says in her artist statement. “I think of myself as a wanderer and this is the territory I investigate; it’s here I find oddness and mystery.”

This show is very much about the body in relation to the world, and a sensuality pulses from many of the pieces.

By mixing her media – charcoal and oil, gauche on board, etc. – Dunstan lends texture to otherwise flat figures.

The pieces feel inviting, as if we as viewers could drop our outward identities and step into the world of symbolism and gesture. When encountering Dunstan’s work, we might lay aside our Western, grin-and-bear-it attitudes and experience something softer, quieter: a moment of repose.

Kaidi Dunstan, “Notions and Happenstance,” through June 21, Tayloe Piggott Gallery, 62 S. Glenwood, 307-733-0555.

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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