13 Questions for Painter of the Comic Grotesque Carroll Dunham

Carroll Dunham, "Next bathers, four (wash)," 2012, mixed media on linen
(Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels)

Name: Carroll Dunham

Age: 63


Occupation: Artist

City: New York and Connecticut

Current Exhibition: Carroll Dunham at Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street, Chelsea, through January 19, 2013

This exhibition at Gladstone Gallery centers on your new paintings, predominantly female nudes and landscapes. In a recent interview in Gotham Magazine, you said, “My recent paintings of women are not really paintings of women. And my trees don’t resemble any trees in our universe.” Why are you drawn to these particular representational subjects?

They emerged from other things in my work and then evolved into their present form. 

If you aren’t interested in representing the real world in your art, what are you interested in representing?

I’m not interested in representing anything per se. I try to follow where my work goes and to pay attention to what it wants. 

It’s been 10 years since your major mid-career survey at the New Museum in 2002. How has your art — and your life — changed since then?

My children have more or less grown up and I split my time between the city and the country. I couldn’t say how my work has changed; it always feels the same from the inside.

The popular stereotype is that people get more conservative as they grow older, but in your art you seem to have done the opposite, moving from abstraction to figurative eroticism that can seem almost brutal in its vulgarity. Do you feel freer to experiment now than earlier in your career?

I am arguably more conservative in the sense that I have “doubled down” on my enthusiasm for painting, and its connection to a tradition. As far as subject matter goes, I don’t think you can map left/right tendencies onto the spectrum that connects “abstraction” and “representation,” there are too many moving parts and the definitions are all too squishy.

The art press loves to pronounce the death of painting and then, a few years later, trumpet its return. You’ve been loyal to the medium your whole life. Why do you paint, and why do you think the medium won’t go away anytime soon?

The “death” thing is fake.

 I have no idea what the future holds, but people do seem to need pictures.

You have a very talented and artistically inclined family, but with different approaches and perspectives. Do you see any influence on each other’s work?

Impossible to say.

What’s the last show that you saw?

The Carroll Dunham exhibition at Gladstone Gallery, sadly.

What’s the last show that surprised you? Why?

Mark Grotjahn sculptures at Gagosian gallery in New York, because it was surprising.

Where is your favorite place to see art?


What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

A level.

Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?


Do you collect anything?

Drawings when I can.

What’s the last great book you read?

“Why Does the World Exist?” by Jim Holt.

To see images of Carroll Dunham's work, click on the slideshow.