This story was featured in the March 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
After decades of immersing himself in the mountains, canyons, and sagebrush expanses of the West and Southwest, painter Pem Dunn has lately found himself even more acutely attuned to the mutable moods of the wild places he loves. One reason, he suspects, is having experienced and painted an entirely different landscape two years ago in Patagonia. Coming back to the Rocky Mountains—Dunn lives in Evergreen, CO—he found himself looking at familiar terrain with new eyes.
Dunn’s compelling western landscapes, mainly set in Colorado and near Jackson, WY, are the subject of a solo show at Evergreen Fine Art this month. With an ever-expanding visual vocabulary, the 76-year-old artist captures nature’s wildly diverse temperaments, which result from combinations of landforms, storms and sunlight, clouds and shadows, times of day, and seasons of the year. The show, entitled Nature’s Changing Moods, opens with a reception and artist’s talk from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, March 14. A demonstration takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 15, and the show remains on view through March 31.
Included in the show are 15 new oil paintings in a variety of sizes, each responding to a particular feeling the painter experienced while in the landscape—from an intimate, mist-filled aspen grove to the drama of a high-mountain winter pass. Other works invoke a serene and almost lonely sense of solitude, or the quiet calm of a western river on a summer day. “Pem’s landscape paintings masterfully convey the ever-changing moods of nature,” remarks Evergreen Fine Art co-owner Barb Hadley.
In each case, Dunn says, he begins by finding a strong abstract design in the landscape and then focuses on subtle value changes and colors. Sketching and photographing on location, he brings his experience back to the studio and translates it onto canvas. “I’m really looking for the mood of the moment—the light and atmosphere and how it affects me when I first see it,” he explains. “It can be something as small as a few rocks in a stream or as big as a mountain range.”
Notes Doug Kacena, director of exhibitions at Evergreen Fine Art: “Pem’s passion is reflected in the expressive layering and delicate emotive quality that emerges from the paint.” Especially after spending time in, and painting, Patagonia—as well as taking a recent trip to Antarctica—Dunn finds himself even more drawn to unpeopled places, where no human presence distracts from fully absorbing nature’s multifaceted moods. “There’s something about that. Even here in Colorado, I like to get out in very solitary areas,” he relates. “It’s an opportunity to really connect spiritually with what’s there.” Indeed, among Dunn’s most satisfying moments as a painter are the times when viewers or collectors express responses to his work that reflect his own experiences in the landscape. One collector recently sent him a card that reads: I find myself at peace when I look at your painting. “That person is connecting with what I’m trying to do,” he says. “That makes it all worthwhile.”—Gussie Fauntleroy
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