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An Artist's Advice: Look Into Chaos

D avid Dunlop is one of those painters who can talk. Talk a lot, in long, compelling paragraphs, complete with fast moves, big hands, smart asides and plenty of eye contact.


He's a showman, this painter. A teacher. An entertainer. Art's Bernstein.

Dunlop, whose paintings are on exhibit at The White Gallery, came to Lakeville, Saturday, in slacks, a sweater and bowler hat to tell the packed house about the high Renaissance and about Leonardo da Vinci, Dunlop's hero - his 15th-century hero, that is (he has plenty more, from the cave painters at Lascaux to Turner and Close and O'Keeffe).

That's because Leonardo broke new ground in a landscape dominated by tradition, Dunlop tells us. At Verrocchio's studio in Florence, where the 14-year-old son of a notary and a peasant girl apprenticed, Leonardo took in the iconography heaped on religious painting and added background, human detail, narrative, ambiguity and, most thunderously, a new view of things.

"We don't see everything in perfect focus," Dunlop told his audience of art lovers and collectors. So, Leonardo, who depended more on observation than on tradition or scholarship, veiled his surfaces, blurred his edges, shadowed his faces. He warmed colors in the foreground and cooled them in the distance, and he painted virgins, saints and angels who, yes, looked like people.

"He was not painting mechanical diagrams with utopian ideals. He pondered how everything worked, transcending constraints of the time."

Of course there's no pinning Dunlop down to a single subject, because he is talking about creation. And because, I suspect, his audience was dotted with people who paint, he talked about bringing notions to light. And light to canvas.

Don't hide from the world, he told his audience. "In the act of living, art will come."

Don't rush. "Insight depends on slowing way down and doing nothing," Dunlop says, an idea that must surely inspire agitation in his students.

And, finally, "look into chaos." Examine mud, he says, ashes, a stone wall to open the imagination. And when you are stuck, look at something else than what you are painting.

As for technique, like Leonardo, Dunlop paints with his fingertips and rags, opening his slidey, wind-worn landscapes onto smooth, impermeable surfaces like copper or aluminum.

As for general advice, he has plenty, but he closes with his keenest: "Avoid specificity to keep ambiguity afloat."

In other words, don't tramp all over the magic.



Dunlop is represented in The White Gallery's show, "An Artful Season," which runs through Jan. 30. For information, call 860-435- 1029.


Dunlop is featured in "Landscapes through Time," a PBS film scheduled for airing on June 15.

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