Delano Dunn is an up and coming artist out of New York by way of Los Angeles, California who specializes in mixed media collages. He sat down to talk with us about gaining confidence and embracing being an artist, the meaning behind some of his unique materials, the audience response and interpretation of his work, the influence of Albrecht Durer, and his drive to explore ideas of racial identity, perception, and representation in our society.
You can check out our reaction to his recent show, No One Can Be This Tomorrowhere and our own collection of photos from the show here.
I started drawing in high school. I really wanted to be a comic book artist and when I went to undergrad I thought that’s what I was gonna do. Thought I was gonna go and be a comic book artist; I studied communications design, illustration, got out of undergrad, did that for a few years and then had a couple of jobs where I had to sue to get paid. That’s when I was like I’m done with this and then just started a studio practice and then got pretty serious with it a few years ago and then finally decided to go back to graduate school.
LA TO NY
All I had ever been was in South Central LA, so I wanted to get as far away from that as possible. To go to undergrad I applied to Pratt, RISD, someplace else but I can’t remember. The goal was just to get as far away as possible. I would love to say that like ‘Oh I wanted to be inspired by the New York scene,’ no it was just to get the hell out of LA.
My confidence in the work, my confidence in being able to talk about the work. I didn’t tell people I was an artist before I went to Grad school. I identified first with my 9 to 5 job, whatever it happened to be, and then after I got to know someone over a period of time, maybe a year, then I would drop it, ‘Oh, I also do art.’ But I never started a sentence off with ‘I’m an artist.’ It was always ‘I work for The Whitney or whoever I was working for at the time. So that was the biggest thing and I think that was one of my biggest goals when I went to graduate school, was to learn how to be confident and to talk about the work.
MATERIALS WITH MEANING
The shoe polish…I kind of look at my studio practice as like this experiment. So I feel like I’m a scientist or a chemist in there working because I don’t have any expectations when I start that those materials are going to work together. But the shoe polish I wanted to use something that was different to represent, as opposed to just using like black oil paint, and the shoe polish has so much baggage that comes with it, you know black face, African-Americans polishing shoes…and the Mylar came from my love of space and astronauts, they use Mylar in the capsules, shuttles, as well as in like the suits and I wanted to use materials that were not only beautiful but had history. So like the wallpapers that I use are all sourced from like pre-1960’s…even though I’m talking a lot about history, something that has physical history in it to communicate even more to the audience.
Sometimes people look at it and because it’s stuff that’s not supposed to go together their immediate reaction is that it’s going to fall apart and collapse over time. And that’s the one thing that I think I have to convince people of a lot. The work, though I have my own desires and stuff as to what I expect, what I put into the work, but people find whatever they want in it. There was one particular piece where…I mean I knew what I was trying to do, but their interpretation was that it was about like going to church on a Sunday and that it had a lot to do with God and religion and that’s fine, you know like I can’t control it. Once you put your work out there you sort of lose any control you have over it. So people see what they want in it, and that’s kind of fine with me.
I would say the first artist that influenced me was Albrecht Durer. I had a friend and his dad had a print of The Four Horsemen in his house and I remember seeing that and being really blown away by it and wanting to draw a comic book that looked a lot like that. When I got to New York one of the first things I did was I went to The Met and they’ve got a bunch of Durer prints so I was looking at those. Yeah Durer holds like a special sort of spot in my heart as like the one serious artist who kind of got me moving.
GOALS + REPRESENTATION
Well that changes with the project man. I would say first and foremost it’s a selfish desire to you know you think about something and you go ‘Oh I wanna do this’ and then you selfishly want to produce it. And in that process other things come in and then it switches from just wanting to produce it to communicating to people. So when I was doing In Our Time, which was about the Space Race and Civil Rights Movement, I initially thought, as a kid you never saw black astronauts even though there were like a couple of them back in like the 80’s. But why could I not turn on the television and see a picture of you know a black man walking on the moon or on Mars in science fiction movies, you never saw that. So I wanted to see that, I was like I think I have the ability, I think I have the technical skills to make this happen so that’s what I want to see. And then as it started to progress it got much more intense. I found out about the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race having a lot of parallels, and I thought well why don’t I just see if I can blend these two things together and make this new sort of reality. So that was my intent and it just blew up into something that went into all these different directions.
With No One Can Be This Tomorrow I just wanted to selfishly explore the idea that the black experience really was not as watered down as it is when you read like a textbook. It’s presented in a way that’s very uplifting and monolithic like everyone in the black community was moving in this direction, and that’s not the case. You know you look at the fact that there were some slaves because they didn’t know any better and they had never had any experience with freedom, were terrified of it. Everyone thought that with Emancipation there was going to be equality, but clearly there’s not, so it just depends on the project.
You do need a level of fearlessness. When I first started making serious work I rarely produced images of African-Americans, it was mostly images of like white individuals because I didn’t think anyone wanted to see an image of a black person, and I was terrified I didn’t think that was going to get me through the door because all you hear about are white artists. As you become more comfortable with yourself and you become more comfortable with your practice you develop a level of being comfortable, and that produces a fearlessness where you can produce what you want. And you’re not afraid to talk about your experiences of being black, or your experiences of growing up in Los Angeles, or you know the fact that, in my case, my father was a crackhead; I wouldn’t tell anybody about that for years. So if you’re not in that spot, if you’re not fearless then you don’t make true work. Your work is sort of catering to something else, it’s not to you and that’s why you kind of need to develop and grow so you can get to that point and then really produce the work you should be producing.
Right now I’m doing work about what if in 1984 five women came from the future and gave the world gender equality, and the pros and cons of that. So what happens to the white male agenda, how do they respond to that, what happens to the color barrier, do these women view the world very differently because you don’t have a white patriarchal system anymore, so does that balance things out more. So there’s that, it’s got like a “Can You Feel It?” Jackson 5 vibe to it and there will be some video stuff involved with it as well.