Kyle Vu-Dunn

Kyle Vu-Dunn

Toootally digging these fantastic, bright relief paintings, which are first carved from foam to create the surface beneath the pigment. And an equally cool interview here with the artist, Kyle Vu-Dunn, who chats with me about what influences his practice and how he works through each of these pieces. As always, more at the links afterward!

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I'd love to know a bit about you! Where are you from originally, and where are you based now?

I'm from Livonia, Michigan--a suburb of Detroit--and am currently based out of Ridgewood, NY.

What first interested you in art, or influenced you to start making it?

I've been making art for as long as I can remember. Growing up gay in a pretty traditional household, I used art as a means of escape and self-expression as I grew more comfortable in my skin. I also have an identical twin brother, who is also an artist, which kind of created and reinforced this little world for us that we inhabited by illustrating it.

Your work is somewhat of a hybrid between sculpture and painting, and occasionally crosses over even into installation. Can you tell me more about your practice?

I've been moving through a couple different areas of interest in the last few years. I had a solo show at The Java Project in Greenpoint this past summer, which I saw as a sort of culmination of everything I wanted to do with abstract work. I had been making small paintings for awhile with elements of that installation, and it was really fun to use the whole space and blow it up in scale. I painted the floor and walls in a deep pink gradient, and had screens of coral-like pattern floating in the center. It was kind of a visual experiment translating virtual flat 90's graphics into an interactive space. 

After that, I grew a little restless with abstract work and how austere it can feel. I wanted to share stories more explicitly, and I transitioned then into figurative work.

My recent studio practice is semi-autobiographic in nature, drawn from memories and experiences in my own life, and helps me to process the politics of the often turbulent world around me and how it intersects with my personal place in it. As with a lot of people, 2016 was a rough/strange year for me, seeing the growth of a scary political climate in our country--at the same time, I got married and have had many positive experiences. It was a year of reckoning and there has been a lot for me to try to process.

The screens from the Java show were actually recycled into the first paintings. I carve forms in foam, and then have them loose to play around with. It is a really fun and loose process, kind of like collaging, but three dimensionally. Some of the elements, be they a prop or figure, have a gravity to them and dictate the rest of the painting around them. Those kind of interior relationships in the work help to guide where the piece is going as a whole. Once the composition starts to take shape, they are attached, plastered, and I begin to paint which locks the forms in. 

You use a lot of different materials, ranging from foam to fiber glass, plaster to various kinds of paint. Do you have a favorite material or combination of them? 

What I've really been responding to with making painted relief sculpture is the way you can manipulate space and light by working with/against the physical, carved forms with paint--the combination of traditional painted surfaces and carved forms. For example, an object that is actually only 1" deep on the surface can "cast" a painted shadow across the whole work, and in this way you can exaggerate the depths and sizes of the objects and/or people that populate the image. I love the back and forth of this process, however, it takes me much longer than a traditional painter to make paintings as I also have to carve the whole form.

What is your process like? Do you plan a piece ahead before you begin? How much time do you typically spend on a work?

Sometimes I carve one object and it grows organically from there; sometimes it starts with a rough sketch. If it starts with a sketch, I doodle it first, then take photos, and make a better drawing that serves as the plan. Along the way, I am constantly taking cell phone photos and drawing over them with the crudest of tools--literally, select "edit" then "drawing" which gives you the equivalent of MS paint on a cell phone--and in this way, I can stay engaged with the work and plugged into it, even when I'm on my morning commute or on my lunch break at work haha. If I don't have a deadline, and am allowed to get enough sleep, they take about 3 weeks... at my busiest period this winter, it was about one every week and half.

How would you describe your studio or workspace?

I am very blessed to have a free studio in NYC, in my apartment building's basement, that my landlord has allowed me to use. It's not photogenic, but it's a good size and has windows. It's a constant struggle of beating back the mess, but to be honest I am the most productive when I ignore the means (and mess) of the fabrication process and focus on the work itself.

What is the best advice you've ever received so far? Any you're happy you ignored?

Blanking on good advice I've received hah. I was almost persuaded to not go to college for art after high school, which I am glad I ignored, but in today's economy is nonetheless reasonable...

How would you define "success?"

For me, success would be living off my studio practice. Having the financial freedom to make work in the studio, but not getting stuck in a rut or repeating yourself... being allowed to continue to experiment and change course as the creative process requires.

What do you feel is the most daunting or challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?

There is a lot of nepotism at play, a lot of people who have safety nets financially that allow them to pursue art more freely--I assume the kind of people who can take unpaid internships and survive living in NYC, haha. That can be an emotional hurdle, and quite depressing, but I try to stay positive. If I didn't really believe in the power of art, I would've quit a long time ago! It is daunting, and it sounds cheesy, but you just have to soldier on, and believe in who you are as an artist and what you are doing, and let chips fall where they may.

What are you working on right now? Any upcoming exhibitions?

Currently, I'm working on a new series of nighttime paintings. Groups of tangled figures in indoor/outdoor spaces. Concerning upcoming shows, I have a few irons in the fire, but they are still in the planning stages!

Find more at kylevudunn.com and on Instagram @dukyja!

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Kathryn Ashford

Kathryn Ashford

En Iwamura

En Iwamura