Dianne Massey Dunbar (b. 1952) considers herself “a fairly ordinary person, so perhaps I can relate more to a bottle of ketchup than I can to a vase of flowers or a mountain range. Her comment makes perfect sense in view of the quotidian subjects she paints so well. The streets of her native Denver by day and night, work crews digging, multihued raindrops reflected on windshields or puddles, diners seen through a cafe window, the abstracted gears of parked bicycles, people shopping for groceries. And then there are her (literally) iconic pictures of glasses, jars (with and without candy), soft drink containers and other packaged consumables, hot dogs, cupcakes, and a nursery’s worth of whimsical toys like Lego cars and piggy banks.
So why this long list? Because these subjects are not often treated by contemporary realists, who generally prefer the picturesque and classically beautiful. (Think shapely nudes and sunlit coastlines.) Instead, Dunbar slows us
down to admire what she calls “the beauty and underlying spirituality of everyday life. She says, “For me, there is something honorable and even sacred about ordinary people living ordinary lives. My hope is that people view the world a little differently after seeing my paintings.”
Dunbar’s hopes are being fulfilled as she enjoys growing success with her generally small- and medium-scale oils. Some viewers may initially mistake her brightly lit, paintedstraight-ahead still lifes for those of the Pop
master Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920), whose work she rightly admires. Though both artists are superb draftsmen, Dunbar’s brushwork is livelier, conveying an on-the-go dynamism enhanced further by richly textured surfaces.
She achieves the latter not only with brushes and palette knives, but also improvised tools like gum wrapper edges and torn paper towel rolls. “A few works paint themselves,” she laughs. “Others yield an almost life-and-death
struggle. While I may have a general idea of where I want to end up, I am almost always surprised.”
Praise has flowed lately for Dunbar’s ambitious multi-figure scenes. As with other outdoor scenes, she takes photographs on site and examines them in the studio, then makes value studies of the top prospect to ensure its composition will hold our attention. This is brainwork for which Dunbar has been trained since age 7, when she started a two-decade-long series of lessons with Harold A. Wolfinbarger, Jr. Except for a brief stint at the Rocky Mountain School of Art, she never focused on art full-time until 1998, when she took a year-long professional
course at the Art Students League of Denver. At that distinguished institution, she was inspired and trained by such talents as Ron Hicks. Kevin Weckbach, Mark Daily, and Quang Ho, alongside whom she now exhibits widely.
Dunbar is represented by Gallery 1261 (Denver), Grapevine Gallery (Oklahoma City), and Greenhouse Fine Art (San Antonio).