From His Studio an Artist Weaves Graffiti into Paintings

There is something strangely familiar within Neil Dunne’s abstract paintings.

In his work, Dunne melds all sorts of textures such as drawings, photographs and found photos along with and colours. This creates an abstract landscape on the canvas.

Amongst the layers in his paintings, wisps of graffiti that could be found on many walls in Dublin, poke through.

It is this feature that gives his paintings strangely recognisable attributes.

“It’s like an abstract representation of urban spaces,” Dunne says speaking on the phone last Friday.

Dunne has always had an appreciation for urban art, be it graffiti, motifs or murals, he says.

The art collection for his new exhibition Outlier began in 2017, when Dunne started creating abstract paintings that are infused with this lifelong appreciation.

Now he has put them together for his exhibition, in the Powerscourt Townhouse, which will be running from Saturday 26 September until 27 October.

Appreciation for Graffiti

Dunne grew up on Donore Avenue in the Liberties, and “always had an appreciation for graffiti”, he says.

“A few of my friends would have been into it in school so I would have gotten an interest that way,” he says.

The graffiti interest started when Dunne was 12 or 13 and he dabbled in it himself but it was “very very bad”, he says laughing. “But I can appreciate the cultural references and the importance of holding onto that culture.”

What interested Dunne was how each artist had their own style, he says. “Everyone is able to pick and choose their own reference point.”

Dunne’s influences include Portuguese urban artist Vhils who manipulated the plaster or stone on a wall to create striking portraits of people.

Street photographer Martha Cooper was another influence on Dunne starting off as an artist.

“She would have been hanging around New York in the seventies and eighties but she captured the whole idea of a subculture,” he says.

Graffiti is a free-flowing creative output that can exist outside of cultural institutions like art galleries, he says.

”It’s placed in our collective spaces to enjoy whether you like, dislike, or whatever.”

Dunne went to the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) to study printmaking.

In 2014, Dunne had just finished his undergrad and decided to take a year out: “I just wanted to enjoy my early twenties,” he says.

But print was something that he always stayed interested in.

From Print Screen to Canvas

Dunne decided to go back to NCAD to do a masters in fine art, and he specialised in printmaking in 2019.

“I was making these very large print reproductions of classical or renaissance paintings,” he says.

Dunne focused on a particular gaze that is found in the eyes of people in renaissance paintings.

“I reproduced them as big as I possibly could on print. Most of them were 6 foot by 8 foot,” he says.

But print work can have certain boundaries, says Dunne.

“A lot of the work that I did was very graphic. It incorporated a lot of images and it was very representational type work,” he says.

Print has always been a passion of Dunne’s but he felt that he had hit a wall with it.

“A lot of the ideas that I had and expressed weren’t really translating into new work,” he says.

He made the move to painting because it was a more expressive medium for himself.

“Instead of the art being representational it became more personal,” he says.

Despite the transition, he still incorporates skills from his print experience into his painting.

In his painting Rainbow, a pale rainbow and dark reds with a green and blue centre hangs on the bottom half of the canvass.

Above it is a stark contrast of abstract paint strokes and graffiti flourishes set against a black background.

“You know stuff like heavy black overlays, that would be the sort of stuff that I try and transition into my own paintings,” he says.

In his piece, Stare a pair of suspecting eyes are buried beneath a myriad of coloured textures which are intricately layered.

The paintings in the Outlier exhibition displays aspects of both styles.

Many of these paintings start off as screen prints.

“Generally 90 percent of any printmaking is in the preparation. The printing itself is the quick part,” he says.

Dunne then paints over these prints.

“I’ll paint into the canvas then cut it up and put it onto a stretcher,” he says.

“I try to be as loose as possible and not restrict myself,” Dunne says.

Post Vandalism

Post vandalism is a term that a college friend of Dunne’s used to capture this type of work.

This term refers to when graffiti no longer becomes known as vandalism and people accept it as art in itself, says Dunne.

“[Post Vandalism] is the use and the playfulness that can surround urban culture by playing around with how we see and view these things,” says Dunne.

This can be done by bringing elements of urban art from the streets into the studio and manipulating it in there, he says.

Ida Ekblad is a Norwegian artist that experiments with themes of post vandalism.

Her paintings are, like Dunnes, are a medley of textures and graffiti on the canvas.

Post-vandalism is in its early stages and can be found in sculpture painting and photography, Dunne says.

It’s at an interesting time because vandalism or urban art has only recently been accepted by the masses, and people are only recently making a living from it, he says

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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