Dunford explores a number of themes through his studies of trains and abandoned train yards. The issue of deindustrialization is explored in Overgrown Railway Siding and Abandoned Railway Spurs. Painted from a bird’s eye perspective, empty rail lines snake across a parched landscape and through the run down streets of a fading city. Despite the notion of sadness or death that accompanies abandoned sites Dunford sees these post-industrial landscapes as hopeful, signifying the opportunity for nature to regain her footing on the planet.
The meditative quality present in the exhibition is accomplished through the time the artist takes creating a new work, moving slowly through the composition, translating his consistent walking practice into the work. He methodically plays with the texture, layers and thickness of his paints, contemplating how these measures translate the reverence he holds for the outdoors. Rather than categorize his paintings as landscapes in the sense of the traditional historic genre instead Dunford’s works are about the places. The eponymous painting Undergrowth presents a scene in which nature has regained dominion, revealed in the portrayal of wild and free growing trees and brush and a barely visible figure, their blue tent partially obscured within the brush. A sense of calm is evoked in this piece, as the viewer may imagine themselves within the
stillness and silence of that place.
Global warming and the boom and bust economy driven by a reliance on natural resource extraction are prominent tropes. Desert Memory 2 features a night scene of a mountainous landscape. A distant train, its yellow rail cars brimming with what may be coal runs the length of the painting. In Train in Bushfire another train, the cars stacked high with the ubiquitous shipping crates speeds through a scene surrounded by smouldering forest fires on all sides, the thick black smoke pouring into the atmosphere in menacing columns. The haunting parallel between these works makes a strong statement on the frightening reality we are facing regarding climate change.
Dunford paints in a diagrammatic manner; the perspective of each work shifts from a birds-eye view, to slightly above and to the side, to a vantage point just above the scene. The subtle differences in point of view offers an alternative understanding of place and locates the artist and viewer in a position of conscientious looking. A rural Manitoba correctional facility is portrayed in Milner Ridge Correctional Facility. In the bottom left corner written in black is a quote from Angela Davis: “How can we imagine a society in which race and class are not primary determinants of punishment? A justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution.” The artist is referring to the notion that prisons are part of the landscape and our society although we do not necessarily always see them, instead being hidden in plain sight.
Delayed Funeral at Falcon Lake depicts a small funeral in which due to Covid-19 only eight socially distanced mourners wearing face masks are present. The painting is a stark reminder of the collective grief felt since the pandemic began. Most individuals by now have been touched in some way by the reality depicted in this work. The paintings may appear restrained in their careful lines and clear perspectives, however the narrative carried through each and the entire exhibition is haunting and gritty, revelatory on a profound level.
The paintings in Undergrowth could be referred to as en plain air –esque; they were not painted on site but they do involve the land on a profound level. The artist walked to each place, returning again and again creating drawings as studies for his paintings. The ritual acts of walking and drawing are both infused into the work. Relating through proximity, time, space and the psychic energies the artist transmits, the paintings come together as an analogous whole. Dunford does not personify nature per se but rather offers her voice and agency through his brushstrokes, impasto and palette. The exhibition draws together the urgency Dunford feels around the societal and environmental issues explored within this selection of honestly and humbly rendered artworks.
–Maeve Hanna / art writer
Patrick Dunford was born and raised in Winnipeg, MB and completed his MFA at Concordia University in Montreal. Solo exhibitions of his work have included Difficult Terrain at Jarvis Hall Gallery in Calgary, Alberta (2018), Recent Paintings at Laroche/Joncas Gallery in Montreal Quebec (2012) and Best Practice in San Diego, California (2020). He is currently in Indianapolis, Indiana where he lives with his wife Noni who is an art historian, and their son Walter.
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