The Artist's Gaze: Hollis Dunlap

Hollis Dunlap Dreaming Girl oil on panel 24 x 30

Hollis Dunlap Dreaming Girl oil on panel 24 x 30

Born in 1977 in Northern Vermont, Hollis Dunlap began painting with oils at age 14, at first experimenting with still life and painting various subjects from imagination.  Encouraged by his high school art teacher, he began taking private oil painting lessons, and began studying the figure as well as painting landscapes. During these years he augmented his school art classes with after-school figure drawing programs, developing his familiarity with the human form.  At the same time he began to study the old masters extensively, copying many master drawings and paintings in an attempt to absorb some of the spirit of their work, as well as more specific technical lessons to be gained from these artists. In 1995 he went on to study at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, where he received extensive training over the course of four years. During this time he was influenced by many painters of various styles, discovering more modern methods of applying paint and emphasizing strong aspects of design in his compositions. He was the first painter to be awarded first prize at New York’s National Arts Club student exhibition two years in a row, as well as receiving the Academy’s John Stobart Fellowship, awarded each year to a graduating student in recognition of outstanding work. Hollis is a two time recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant as well.  In the winter of 2001, he studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, painting the figure in the interior space and furthering his understanding of dynamic light effects. Since then he has had numerous solo shows in Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Boston, Florida, and San Francisco, and currently paints the figure at his studio in Southeastern CT.

Born in 1977 in Northern Vermont, Hollis Dunlap began painting with oils at age 14, at first experimenting with still life and painting various subjects from imagination.  Encouraged by his high school art teacher, he began taking private oil painting lessons, and began studying the figure as well as painting landscapes. During these years he augmented his school art classes with after-school figure drawing programs, developing his familiarity with the human form.  At the same time he began to study the old masters extensively, copying many master drawings and paintings in an attempt to absorb some of the spirit of their work, as well as more specific technical lessons to be gained from these artists. In 1995 he went on to study at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, where he received extensive training over the course of four years. During this time he was influenced by many painters of various styles, discovering more modern methods of applying paint and emphasizing strong aspects of design in his compositions. He was the first painter to be awarded first prize at New York’s National Arts Club student exhibition two years in a row, as well as receiving the Academy’s John Stobart Fellowship, awarded each year to a graduating student in recognition of outstanding work. Hollis is a two time recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant as well.  In the winter of 2001, he studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, painting the figure in the interior space and furthering his understanding of dynamic light effects. Since then he has had numerous solo shows in Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Boston, Florida, and San Francisco, and currently paints the figure at his studio in Southeastern CT.

Interview with Hollis Dunlap
The Artist's Gaze
Curated by Victoria Selbach
Sirona Fine Art Gallery

What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?

I generally get an idea, and someone may have features or the right personality that helps me realize my idea. I like to paint people with interesting features, but almost anyone can make an interesting subject. I like models who can hold poses for longer, which always helps, and there are a few women who i like to work with who seem to naturally take interesting poses. Its important to me to not only portray someone as only an object, only surface - that type of painting generally doesn't interest or appeal to me, unless its painted exceptionally well. I think that the physical look of oil paint makes conventional ideas of beauty less important in painting; what is beautiful to me is form, or shapes, or a particular combination of colors. Lately I have been lucky to work with some great people who have helped me out tremendously and i am excited to work with them more.

When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective?

A significant connection can mean so many things, but it would probably go beyond just thinking of the painting as surface, form and color. Its certainly different painting someone who you have a personal relationship with, as opposed to someone modeling for an art class. About half of the people I paint are friends, some of them close friends, so I usually have some type of connection with them, although the formal issues of paint and composition almost always come first for me.  I think that there are certain poses and gestures which can remind me more of someones personality, and can add more of that personal connection to a work.

What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women?

To be honest, I don't focus on women more deeply than any other subject i may be painting. I enjoy painting men just as much, although i generally find that the viewers react more to portrayals of women. I of course find women beautiful, but in terms of actual painting, I find almost everything worthy of being painted. 

Why this visual dialogue? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?

Its very important to me to paint the entire painting, and not only the figure. First and foremost, the painting is a composition, an arrangement of geometric shapes, and i want the viewer to notice that. Other than that, I enjoy creating images that people will hopefully find depth in and want to look at again and again. I want to find designs that are pleasing to the eye, that will stand the test of time (at least for a few hundred years) and are hopefully somewhat interesting in an intellectual level as well. 

Tell us about your current series or work and how it may be different from the work submitted for the show.

Most of the work that I do has things in common, since the composition, color, and actual visual arrangement always interests me. I am very interested in dramatic lighting and like to use that to create sculptural forms, as well as creating a mood and sense of space. I have been trying to slowly introduce more conceptual ideas into my work, not in an obviously narrative way, but I do enjoy the suggestion of a storyline, especially since so much of the classical work that i love us religious in nature. Lately i have been interested in iconic, symmetrical designs and pushing the color intensity further. I have been balancing poses that are obviously studio creations with slightly more informal scenes, figures in the interior, etc. I also have been excited to work out of my head a little more, as i did when i was a teenager and didn't have the ability to paint accurately. I did some of that in the painting titled "dreamtime" where there are shapes that suggest wings and a vague landscape in the background. Essentially i want to experiment with the painting, and if I see something that looks like a landscape, or a tree, or whatever, I will try to define those things in a way that works with the overall design. That type of work is interesting to me, when it is more about inspiration and less about observation.

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