The male figures in Kyle Vu-Dunn’s paintings are all curves. Their lithe and limber bodies seem to melt and merge with one another. The colors in his recent paintings is simultaneously hot and muted; the tone of the works ache with desire. Kyle uses his own and husband’ body as source reference for his works, but says that this is where the autobiographical connection ends. Rather, his work aims to conveys a picture of masculine softness and male sensuality. His favourite medium is relief painting, which he says allows him greater physical depth to explore the male form.
Kyle received his BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture from Maryland Institute College of Art and has shown work in numerous group exhibitions across the United States. Kyle’s work is currently on view in a few group shows and he is busy with work for a solo show at Thierry Goldberg Gallery, NY in November 2018. Amidst his busy schedule, Kyle took some timeout to chat with us and answer a few questions about his work.
AMM: Hi Kyle! What’s your earliest art-related memory?
KVD: I remember drawing Christmas angels at Catholic school in kindergarten. I’ve been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember.
AMM: How does popular culture influence you as an artist?
KVD: Being a child of the internet, it can be hard to pinpoint specific references when you’re as media saturated as we are today. Some of my recent work is inspired by the visuals of 1970s Italian giallo films (specifically saturated interiors with an erotic charge), music videos, theatrical stage lighting, interior design photography and advertisements, etc. With google image there is a never ending source of material.
AMM: Open windows and glass surfaces are prominent motifs in your recent work. Can you tell us more about your visual language?
KVD: A greenhouse as an incubator and hothouse environment, paralleling alone time with a lover, was one of the working ideas for my show “Night In” at Julius Caesar this past April. So in those works, the compositions were often structured around and through panes of glass with condensation. This also presented an opportunity to double the characters in reflection and break up the reliefs with flat geometric planes. This motif is largely absent from the new body of work that I am developing.
AMM: The figures in your artworks often have elongated, phallic-like limbs. How does this stylizing of the male body relate to the themes in your work?
KVD: Correct anatomy isn’t important to me – the bodies in my work are extended or bent firstly to emphasize the emotional state of the character, and secondly to serve compositional ends. For example, in Serving, the boy is bent far backwards with a tray perched on his midsection, in a kind of parody of self-sacrifice to serve his off-stage lover (in this case, the viewer). It’s really about using the body as another tool to exaggerate the characters’ intentions.
AMM: How do you engage and explore themes of masculinity and sexuality in your work?
KVD: I think everyone, regardless of gender or appearance, should be free to be as soft or as hard as they like. I personally am a very romantic person and paint men likewise; men aren’t given a space in our culture to be sensual versus sexual, and so I am throwing these images out in the world just hoping it makes more space for people to feel like gender doesn’t have to limit their lives and desires.
AMM: How does your color palette relate to the themes and subject matter of your work?
KVD: In these last pieces, the settings were balmy, warm interiors, so I was using a lot of fleshy colors shot through with cold for emphasis. I try to match the situation depicted – are they introspective? Playful? – with the color palette. I don’t develop image and palette separately, they are linked intrinsically, and when I’m first pinning down the image I’ll usually have a sense of where it will be going color wise.
AMM: Who are the men in your work? Are they real or imagined? How self-referential is your art?
KVD: My husband and myself are the models, if a model is called for. I’ll often have the idea first and sketch the whole figure, then use photos for specific body parts (the bend of an elbow, fingers wrapped around a spout, etc.). So they can be a little Frankenstein-like in that respect. Sometimes I’m thinking of my relationship specifically, and these I think of as a kind of love letter made tangible through paint. But our likenesses or individual identities aren’t necessary to reading the work. It’s more like paint what you know, while trying to find the universals in your experience that other people can relate to.
AMM: Your compositions take cognizance of the idea of a viewer. Please tell us more about how you play with the idea of looking in your work.
KVD: You know when you’re in a crowded restaurant and somebody says, “look at that person, but don’t be obvious”? That mood is often in my work. It’s the idea that the figure in the painting is looking away, or looking off in the distance, but is very aware of the viewer and is acting coy. It’s a kind of come-on to the audience. The contrast between that kind of coquetry and the forwardly sexualized, languid bodies interests me.
AMM: What motivated you to start working on relief panels and what does this three dimensionality bring to your work conceptually?
KVD: I studied sculpture, and after years of material experimentation I arrived at these relief panels. I’ve only in the last year or so learned how to paint on a fully flat surface by making works on paper apart from the reliefs. Painting on a three dimensional surface has its own kind of logic that is quite different from painting on canvas. You have to account for actual shadows and highlights in the relief, and parts of the composition can be doubly emphasized in both physical depth and pigment. It gives me greater creative control over an image when I can play with both its color and its physicality. The relief gives me another level to describe the figure on.
AMM: Can you tell us about your process of working?
KVD: I am always sketching and have a long prep process before I begin the reliefs. Every panel is first a tonal graphite drawing, then a color sketch, then a relief. Those I consider most successful are often pinned down in the first couple of sketches, but I have to sort through a lot of chaff to get the wheat.
AMM: What’s next for you?
KVD: In September-October, I am in the group show “Skins” at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery, a group show “Re_Arrange” at Juxtapoz Projects at Mana Contemporary in Jersey, and a group show at Thierry Goldberg Gallery in NYC. This November, I have a project coming out that’s still under wraps but that I’m very excited about, as well as a solo show at Thierry Goldberg Gallery that I am currently working on.
Find out more about the artist: www.kylevu-dunn.com
Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.