Iris Williamson (BFA Painting ‘05) recently curated the two-person exhibition Back and Forth: Collaborative Paintings for Hap Gallery in Portland, which presented the work of Mathew Zefeldt and Kyle Austin Dunn (BFA Drawing ’10). This is the first public presentation of Zefeldt and Dunn's collaborative works, shown together with selected individual works.
The exhibit centered around a long-standing visual conversation between the painters. Zefeldt works with recognizable artistic tropes such as classical sculptures, glitch aesthetics and globs of paint, and he juxtaposes the painterly process with digital media’s repetitive qualities. Dunn uses sharp edges and gradation to create imaginary objects that suggest the materials of our fabricated environment such as plastic dinnerware, surgical instruments, candy and toys. Both Zefeldt and Dunn’s visual languages often lead to humorous, playful and uneasy associations.
Dunn, a School of Art + Art History alumnus, met Zefeldt while working on an MFA at the University of California, Davis, where the two had studios in the same building. They liked each other’s work and a partnership began.
“Our collaborations go back to 2010-2011, our second year of grad school,” says Dunn. “We both felt there were shared interests in our work, but it was interesting to see how our different approaches to painting led to very different results. We decided to produce collaborative paintings through a back-and-forth exchange, so we both agreed to making a painting each completed to about 50 percent, trade, and then finish the paintings.”
Zefeldt adds, “I like to think of our work together as a conversation. Kyle starts the painting and it says something, then I put something on it, and it says something in response to what Kyle said, and so on and so forth.”
This started as a fun exercise and a way to try new things without feeling the pressure of making something work perfectly every time. “Seeing our contrasting stylistic tendencies on the same surface ended up working well, and had a surprisingly unified presence,” says Dunn.
Zefeldt and Dunn continued the practice over the last few years, most recently sending work back and forth from Minnesota to California rolled in a tube via Fed Ex. The paintings began open-ended, based on whatever each artist was interested in at the time. As their solo work changed over the years, so have their collaborations.
“On a formal level, Mathew is better at using brushstrokes and texture to create form, and I approach line and form-making with more precision and hard-edges, though lately I have been getting looser and Matthew, more refined,” Dunn says. “Mathew's vision incorporates representation to establish familiar focal points, whereas I tend to think more abstractly and usually try to alter the field from functioning as a traditional ‘picture’ plane.”