“I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities.”
“My life has been dedicated to the pursuit of beauty. It is an exciting, never ending challenge with prismatic possibilities.”
One of Dunkel’s first decisions as a visual artist was to begin classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. It was there that he studied basic composition and technique with an emphasis on classical painting traditions. A few years later he studied with Scott Fraser at the Academy of Realist Art in Seattle. On his return to Boston, he began to build his career as a painter, continuing to take workshops with a variety of well respected artists.
Dunkel recalls that he began by painting images of dogs. As he remarks, “I enjoyed painting them, but they didn’t sell.” Recognizing the need to explore a wider range of subjects, he began including other animals, one of which would become his most characteristic creation, the small mouse. The mouse paintings first appeared as part of a running joke with his wife about why there were crumbs on the kitchen counter. Dunkel included one of them in an exhibition at the Lyman-Eyer Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, not really expecting that it would sell. As he was packing up his work at the end of the show, however, a client saw the mouse painting sitting on the floor and purchased it immediately.
Since then, the mouse has become Dunkel’s most familiar image. He describes these paintings as “a magnificent obsession” and notes that the process is similar to playing music, always bringing a fresh interpretation to the performance. The mouse is clearly autobiographical, but he is also a universal spirit, sharing emotional experiences that range from delight to fear—usually with a sense of humor as well.
Like many series painters, from Claude Monet to Andy Warhol, Dunkel is fascinated with abstract and formal harmonies in his compositions as well as the immediate subject. Viewed from a distance, the specific elements of the mouse paintings transform themselves into explorations of color and shape and line, creating patterns and revealing structures that are not apparent at first glance.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Dunkel concentrated on continuing education and on assimilating the culture of the classical realist art world. He entered juried competitions, receiving a prize in 2004 at the Westford Art Show in Westford, Massachusetts. The following year, his work was accepted at the prestigious Salmagundi Club’s Realist Competition in New York. In 2006, he served as a guest lecturer on the topic of “Art and Anxiety” at Wellesley College; and returned for an encore in 2007.
The next two years solidified Dunkel’s reputation as a serious artist in the Boston art world. He was a Silver Medal winner at New England Representational Competition sponsored by The Guild of Boston Artists in October of 2007; and the recipient of the Crisp Award for Best of Show at the exhibition organized by the Copley Society of Boston in November. In the summer of 2008, he again received kudos from the Copley Society of Boston at the Members Summer Show Competition where he won first prize.
In the summer of 2008, Dunkel also teamed up with a friend to produce what was intended to be a marketing pamphlet on his ideas about art. The project grew far beyond the original idea however, and eventually became Dunkel’s second book. Published in 2009, An Artist’s Life: Insights into the Paintings of Stuart Dunkel offers the painter’s insights into the process of painting from three perspectives: technical, creative and spiritual.
During this period, Dunkel also continued to seek out teachers within the classical realist tradition; one of the most influential was Joel Carson Jones, himself a student of Anthony Waichulis of the Ani Art Academies. Dunkel traveled to northeastern Pennsylvania to work with Jones and was pleased to be invited to participate in the Anthony Wachulis Invitational in 2011. That year’s exhibition, titled Capturing Realism, was held at the Pauly Friedman Gallery at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania. This was an opportunity to meet other artists working in the realist tradition, as well as a chance to show his paintings to the art dealers who attend the annual show.
Back home in Massachusetts, Dunkel continued to take classes with respected local painters, and in 2010, he agreed to teach a basic class after his own teacher moved to New York. Today, he is the director of the Nautilus School of Realist Art in Watertown, Massachusetts where he continues to teach a small coterie of students. As always, the discipline that he mastered as a young musician serves him equally well as a painter. His work has grown in depth and meaning over the years, and when asked about his goals for the future, he replies simply that he “hopes to keep improving.”
Janet Whitmore, Ph.D.
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