Emerging Artists | Kari Dunham

Telling her story

Kari Dunham, Come to the Table, oil, 56 x 83.

Kari Dunham, Come to the Table, oil, 56 x 83.

This story was featured in the September 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art September 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

When Kari Dunham was growing up in Portland, OR, she relished a Sunday ritual—dinner at her aunt and uncle’s home just across the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA. Friends, cousins, and other family members shared conversation, laughter, and good food as they sat side by side at a sprawling table. This year Dunham, a recent graduate of the 
Laguna College of Art + Design with a master’s degree in painting, decided to paint this memorable scene from her childhood by creating a large-scale, multiple-figure piece. She wanted to 
portray that particular time in her life when people she cared about gathered around a table and the power of that experience in her life. “I think my generation especially, and those younger than me, are longing to come to the table, share a meal, and experience community,” Dunham says.

The California-based figurative painter might best be described as a realist and narrative artist in the vein of Indiana painter Eve Mansdorf. Like Mansdorf, Dunham is a storyteller dedicated to engaging with viewers in a meaningful way. Her work is largely autobiographical and often a commentary on how she views relationships. Dunham usually stages her visual narratives in the interiors of homes. And while the artist says autobiographical experiences are often the 
jumping-off point for a painting, she firmly believes that the viewer should take away their own meanings and messages.

Dunham’s inspiration comes from a laundry list of sources, including people she cares about, light, color, tables, chairs, handwritten letters, cups and other ordinary objects, and lastly, “brokenness.” Dunham is not afraid to explore the more painful sides of her life—not just the coming together but also the breaking apart of a family, as in her painting HOME IS NOT. Dunham says this work was inspired by a line from Chaim Potok’s novel The Gift of Asher Lev that resonated with her because of her own “broken pieces,” the result of a broken family. As Dunham puts it, “An artist needs a broken world in order to have pieces to shape into art.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff


Featured in the September 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art September 2014 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

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