“It’s pouring out of me, and I don’t know where it’s taking me, and I don’t know where it’s gonna go, but I’m showing up!” Gene Dunn stated, his face not yet on screen, gently moving the chair in place before sitting down. I beamed, nodding my head in admiration; and for a split second, as he said the words, a flash vision of what it may look like came over me, but he was on to something else, now on full screen, not noticing my reaction, as he settled in. He really is perfect for this article, I mused within as he spoke, and I listened.
We have these talks from time to time. I can sense his shadows, and I recognize his light. But, more importantly, I know his heart.
I had an idea for an article, perhaps multiple. To follow one artist’s progress, watching their evolution over time. The idea of possibly capturing the switch in one’s energy, witnessing what changes when action turns into passion.
To notice an evolution requires tremendous activity, as it has an emotional currency with a significant return few experience, but many are attracted to. The muscle is in the hustle. Nobody escapes this because paradigms are made from this invisible force. In the longspun road, it is inside every one of us. Study history hit repeat: loop that; in every second of every day, it happens.
Yet, in the here and now, who and what and how do we learn? Emulation of propagation? Influence has an entirely new meaning today; Where does one find the real deal? Someone not so contrived, with resolve, clear resolution, and inner determination to see it through? I’m happy to introduce you to him, and he lives in Brooklyn.
I have known Gene Dunn for thirty years. He is so intensely deep-felt, well-read, and philosophical, also at the same time, wildly free. Moreover, and important to note, he is uniquely his own person. He will don a faux fur jacket, sweat pants and finish it off with flip-flops. He used to have a big maroon/plum-colored car, meticulously polished, which completed the vision flawlessly (he has since swapped for a smart car, which is hilarious knowing his size). He’s like a character in a movie you would want in your get-away caper for more than one reason.
He says I love you generously, without hesitating in the most exquisite sense. The words are spoken with a silent message of hope for everyone who comes in contact with him. Gene makes videos telling everyone who sees them that “You are loved, protected, and you are important.” He is a “Killer Teddy Bear” who hosts a podcast called the “Gentle Art Podcast,” where he interviews people (including myself) of all walks of life about their journey, and it’s really engaging. This is Gene right now. But, of course, this has been Gene all along.
So, when I noticed he was doing art a few years ago, I paid attention because I just knew something exceptional was brewing. He never walks on a worn path. I knew he was the Emerging artist I wanted to share and I was thrilled with the notion. You see, Gene is a giver. I would wait for his next painting or the next sketch and then he started something, which he does to this day.
He puts a picture up on his Instagram story and writes, “Do art every day.. Here’s Today’s sketch” and encourages anyone who sees it to try it with him. A panda bear, a vase, a taxi cab, anything.. and then I noticed over time (the silent nod), other people began to sketch with him, and he would show their sketches too. It was now a team sport. He told me people will write to him and tell him how happy they are to be sketching again, life, jobs, time gets in the way, and thanked him for opportunity to do something they love to do. My favorite part of participating would be writing to him, from time to time, letting him know the progress I observe from afar. This is a story worth telling and my heart feels full to even type these words. I can say with certainty, there is no one else quite like Gene Dunn.
I spoke to him over the months in person and on zoom and calls, keeping up with him noticing the progress in his confidence within the brushstrokes, and layers and how his work emits soul, and an intimacy that says, I get you, and I feel you. When I saw his portrait of Keith Richards, I thought of pictures I have seen in Museums that cannot capture the profundity that this work does, and proudly showed my friends. He doesn’t dabble. He will explore different mediums, and will enjoy and experience whether it be watercolor, and oils, paper or canvas.
Now, he is in two art shows, and I sat back and wrote this wondering what that gift is in a person to evolve, emerge and come to be.. (add in your dream)
We answer a silent yes without knowing
entirely unaware of the quiet consent we cede
unable to identify what the question was, to begin with, because it wasn’t heard with our ears
we sensed a vocation in our souls
we rest, we rise
we believe, and we devise
then something emerges
When you think about the term “EMERGE,” what goes through your mind?”
I think about Good ideas emerging or bubbling up and the courage to respond to those good ideas- A kind of realization that there’s evermore good when we let go of a past identity/way of being.
What do you think makes an artist an “Emerging artist?” and when did that switch go off for you?
I think the moment we as artists realize we are valuable and have something to share, coupled with the idea that the viewer (witnesser) has value and importance in that space, creation emerges for me that’s where Art and Love exist in the most powerful form.
I experience it more like shedding. Shedding fears that whatever gets created is worthless or that I’ll never be as good as other artists and really leaning on creation and the inclusionary principles that I adhere to.
Do you like to paint scale, or prefer smaller works?
I kinda feel like the size of the work reflects the stage I’m at in development. The less I’m trying to control every little detail, it seems like the size of the work naturally expands. I certainly am not in a rush to shortcut the experience, so I hope as I grow, the result will as well.
Is there a medium you favor more than others?
As a daily practice, I like to work in several mediums – starting with small pen and ink sketches, larger graphite/charcoal drawings, and then moving to watercolors and then finishing the day with oil. For me, oil painting is is the jam and the one I’m most intimidated by. It’s such a powerful and exquisite medium that in my imagination connects me to every other painter, past, present and future and in some ways every person that’s ever viewed a painting.
Do you title your works?
Sometimes I’m concerned a title might take away from the viewers experience. However, there are times when I’m left with an idea at the end of a painting that I find wants to be attached to the work, and sometimes it’s a quirky title that inspires me. For example, I listened to Iggy Pop’s BBC show, and he referred to himself as Igor Popodopoulous. That was so cool! I thought, Ohmygosh, I want to spend more time with this guy named Igor Popodopoulous. Get to know him better. So I did a playful portrait to capture our time together. Kinda like a Polaroid picture and titled it Igor Popodopoulous. In that way, I don’t think a title takes anything away from the viewer’s experience but instead gives this interesting story a cover page.
Tell me about “Time” when you are working.. what are you experiencing
I think a lot about this metaphysical statement, “If it’s mine to do, then I can do it.” This time thing can be a little sticky, especially when thoughts of age, career, etc, start trying to argue with me and distract me from the work. I know lots of people say that time stands still or disappears when they’re working, and some of that’s true for me as well – very meditative. Interestingly I feel time is actually more malleable when I’m doing art and therefore doesn’t just stand still… but I’m actually gaining time while doing the work. A deep sense that “Time is on my side,” like when we turn back the clock and poof, there’s suddenly an extra hour.
Does painting quiet your mind or wake you up to the possibilities?
I don’t really look to quiet my mind. I am always trying to align myself with creation and am listen for it. What I most desire is a continuous awakening to good ideas and letting that just guide the brush.
How much time do you spend in the studio, and has that become longer as you have gotten more refined?
I find myself wanting to engage with the work more and more. Like the more I do, the more I want to do. Refinement seems to always always be part of the process. I’ve learned that progress is natural and refinement is a result of engaging with the work daily. It never fails to deliver something good.
What kind of things do you say to yourself after you finish a piece?
One of the things I have to be very mindful of is self judgement. I don’t want to be overly critical and kill the desire to keep working. I like the idea that “Love loves all of its creations” as a way to find balance between two points. Is there more to do, experience or progress with this piece? Or am I being too critical and killing it for the next painting? Most times I find it’s best to just let things be and trust that I can go a little further next time.
When did you first know this is something you wanted to spend more time on your craft in a professional capacity?
I think I was very fortunate growing up in NYC — there was a ton of art via the museums, street art and even in school. It was all around me. I remember seeing a film of Jackson Pollock painting in the third or fourth grade. In those days they used to wheel in a giant projector with large 8mm canisters, pull down the screen that hung over the black board, run the film through the little spindles, turn off the lights, and boom, we were right there with Pollock. I can still hear that clicking noise the film makes as it runs. I knew then and there I wanted to be an artist. I went to the HS of Art and Design, and there was this sorta promise of a good art education in my head, but what really happened was I became intimidated by other artist and insecure about my ability to earn a living, so I gave up the idea of being a working painter and turned my attention to Martial Arts. Growing up very poor left me feeling that Martial Arts was a better way out, so I traveled the world competing and opened up schools in Brooklyn. At some point, though, I became concerned for whatever reason that there was nothing tangible to leave behind. The legacy problem. I don’t have kids. My work in the martial arts, while I believe it provides value for people, is not really tangible in the ways that I needed it to be, so I turned to back to my love of painting. Which, reconnected me to creation, which is eternal. The paintings are just a record of that, a manifestation of that relationship.
Do you even want to put yourself in a box- like labeling yourself an abstract artist?
I don’t believe there is a box that creation comes in. Why would I want something infinite to be finite? I’ve already self-imposed too many limits in my life. I’ve made that mistake already.
Which work do you think you have worked on, not even necessarily finished when you knew you had elevated your technique and even surprised yourself?
I feel as though when I’m working, I’m trying to find the subject, and it’s trying to find me. If and when we meet on the canvas or paper, it’s always a brilliant moment. So inspiring sometimes that I won’t be able to sleep for hours after I finish up at night. I Love it! More specific to the question, the Keith Richards portrait is one where I worked very hard, but paradoxically, I look back and don’t recall slaving over it. It’s more like I have no idea where it came from – I was just an antenna for it the whole time.”
What are you excited about now?
I’m really fucking happy about this interview.
I’m inspired by the Do Art every day moment. In particular, the drawings people are sharing. It’s all very moving. I’m inspired that my love for art is taking me in wonderful directions, not all of which I understand, nor do I have to.
If you could have a show anyplace, where would it be?
“I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be anyplace.”
How would you describe what you create?
What I’d like to think is moving through me is something of a union of Jackson Pollock’s immediacy and atomic energy coupled with the grounded forms and delicate color nuances of Paul Cézanne. The indescribable things that gave their paintings life are things I’d love to be able to express.
You often encourage others to join you on your Instagram and encourage them to sketch something along with you. Have you ever gotten messages saying how you inspired them?
Yes, a large part of the Do Art Everyday movement is former Art and Design graduates who stopped doing art as well.
They’ve communicated that what’s been inspiring to them is the consistency — the never-quit pursuit of this, the daily practice — having someone show up every day supporting their art and doing it along side them. The shared experience is very powerful, and If the martial arts taught me anything, it’s chop wood carry water. Consistency trumps insecurity. It’s been my privilege to do art every day.
Where would you like to be in a year technique developmentally and what are you doing to achieve that?
I’m so interested to see myself!! What I’m really after is expressing how I view life through painting. At this point, I’m humbly showing up at the easel, sorta like an altar of sorts, every single day and putting paint down on the canvas, trusting that it will take not just myself but those who view the work someplace good. I’m so looking forward to it!
Do you have an art mentor?
I have been blessed with a very good teacher and a great landscape painter in his own right, Casey Inch. Genius guy! He knows just the right moments to impart gems of knowledge that allow me to experience the fullness of painting for myself.
Some laze after dreaming,
anticipating the right moment for the sun to arrive
To basque in it to feel warm and safe
While others stretch towards the sunshine and carry it
And that is who Gene Dunn is
He shares the light
He will give some of his
If you don’t have any
Generous with his thoughts
Hospitable with his responses
He elevates his ground beneath him
One step at a time
Leading, learning, and loving
He is emerging