The White River Gallery @ BALE is small and spare. The walls are covered by the artist's outsized works in an exhibition called, appropriately enough, Patrick Dunfey: Large Paintings on Paper.
The paintings are evocative, but not representational, of a summer childhood spent lakeside. In a conversation with Dunfey about whether the work depicted a particular place, he said no; rather, it is meant to convey the feeling of a place. Further, it needn't be a place in Dunfey's own memory or experience. He is happiest when viewers see his work and are transported to a place of their own, real or imagined. It happened for me. Upon seeing his painting Cove, of a worn but solid-looking deck jutting out into the water, we found ourselves in conversation about the history of a family summer house where the deck has defined the meaning of summer for generations.
Gallery interior. Breach, Day, and Cove by Patrick Dunfey
In appearance, the paintings are reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, but are in fact done with tempera and pigmented gesso on paper. Structures made of wood, with suggestion of the wood's grain, are common motifs, as are right angles, which add strength to the compositions. A favorite, Day, (featured photo, above) is particularly arresting because as Dunfey sees it, "It's as if the painting itself is actually in the way of what you want to see." The window, and even better, the slight ribbon of light around the door's edge, means that the day is just on the other side. One is tempted, sorely, to peel back a corner of the window's curtain, or to slam the bolt of that lock open and step outside.
Less cozy is Breach. Water everywhere, a log uncomfortably askew. Dunfey noted that the painting makes people feel uneasy. One senses the water swirling, rising. And there is no dry ground nor steady perch on which the viewer can stand.
Breach by Patrick Dunfey
Dunfey received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. He and his wife moved from New York City to the Upper Valley in 1985. While he has pursued his art throughout past decades, the works in this exhibition are a renaissance of sorts. After he serendipitously discovered a gallery space in White River Junction's Tip Top Building (he was helping someone find a lost poodle), he decided to rent it. 225 Gallery enabled him to produce works of a larger scale. Dunfey is also the Head of Exhibitions and Planning at the Hood Museum of Art.
The White River Gallery is part of a community-based space, a converted storefront on the green in South Royalton VT. BALE (Building A Local Economy) provides this venue for a variety of local activities, "open to all and used most evenings of the year . . . free of charge (with donations strongly welcomed)." Yoga classes, weekly music jams, and book discussion groups have met there. It is also the home of The Woven Thread, a storytelling event that meets monthly.
Dian Parker is the curator and gallery director. Her vision for the gallery is to showcase lifelong working artists. Each show is different and the media are varied--collages, paintings, etchings, sculpture, photography. She appreciates the opportunity to bring gallery-quality art to a multi-functional space. Visitors who come for a political meeting or a poetry reading can experience an artist's work at the same time. Shows are booked at the White River Gallery through the next two years.
Large Paintings on Paper continues through September 30, 2017. To view more of Patrick Dunfey's work, visit his website. For gallery hours and further information about the White River Gallery, please click here.
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge