21 March – 19 April 2003
White Cube Hoxton Square
Dunham is known for his vibrant, chromatic semi-abstract paintings that explode with psycho-sexual content and are driven by seemingly aggressive and underlying libidinous energy. The exhibition at White Cube Hoxton Square included five new paintings as well as five free-standing painted steel sculptures – the first three-dimensional work that the artist has ever exhibited.
Dunham began painting in the 1980s, making pictures on wood veneer that incorporated the grain of the wood as an integral, formal element in the picture, with a shallow depth of field where foreground and background interweave between optical bands of colour. Dunham's work then developed from being vehemently non-representational in the 1980s to a series of paintings in the 1990s that incorporated organic forms that took on human characteristics. Tuberous body parts and strange, primal shapes emerged from sharp blocks of colour with a rude sexuality, comic aggression and insistent physical presence. Psychic, animalistic universes or 'sexual galaxies' as the artist has described them, are peopled with visionless beings who seem to be turning in on themselves with vaudevillian abandon in a riot of primary colour. Dunham's energetic works are stratified, with different, formal elements within the picture plane creating a volatile union of mind and body, figure and ground, male and female, interior and exterior.
The artist has said of his work that it 'exists in this kind of tension between irrational, almost goofy things and extremely tight, formal, organized things’. His explosion of shapes is tempered by a formal visual acuity and controlled by a strict, graphic line, combining an unsettling mixture of cartoon-like drawing and vivid color. Dunham's art seems to have absorbed the art brut physicality of Jean DuBuffet and fused it with an erotic vernacular akin to illustration or cartoons. His paintings are like journeys – a probing and uncovering of the internal visions of the human mind.
In 2002, the artist embarked on his black and white Mesokingdom paintings, in which a single male character dressed in a black suit and hat, half gangster, half religious zealot, wanders alone through visionary landscapes. The paintings in the exhibition, collectively titled Edge of His World, both continued and departed from the themes in those paintings. The character reappears in brightly coloured and starkly painted images of a drastically emptied landscape where he is enlarged, cropped and truncated by the structural elements of the paintings. These paintings form a sexual dialogue with the sculptures, which embody images of the female characters that have been absent from the artist's recent paintings.