by Jackie Kuntz Published in The Tiger Newspaper
I sat in the Lee Gallery watching as visitors approached the work of Dana Saulnier. Each was curious, some almost uncomfortable, as they appeared to struggle with their emotions. The images may have appeared dangerous which elicited feelings of vulnerability. While the textured ridges on the painting’s surface tempt a closer examination, the viewers keep their distance, held their breath, waiting for this writhing, carnal mass to come tumbling out of the frame.
Dana Saulnier lives and works in rural Ohio. The influence of his environment–its deep colors, elemental texture, and pulsating passing of time in nature–swell and seep from the canvas. Every fiery hue of red, every sappy deep green, references the organic while subtle flesh tones peek from beneath the buildup of texture; the gestural hand of the artist is the work’s dominant trait. Though the color scheme seems to most reference the romantic palette of the Hudson River Valley landscapes, the application of paint and expressively bold strokes almost answer to Goya influences. This is just one of the many paradoxes this body of work manifests. Is the subject matter visceral or landscape oriented? Is it a depiction of some tragic decomposition or something full of life? Is it confrontational and threatening or the culmination and destruction of something that can no longer bear its own weight? Upon closer examination, one might be able to make out a hand, a storm, a cup, a sail, or arguably a human spine, but the overall aesthetic is abstracted grandeur.
An interview with the artist cast light on the subject nature of this ten year visual thesis, “The ‘night paintings’ began with my attempt to structure, within painting, the personal loss experienced as one that I love slipped away into an illness that erased memory, thereby collapsing the relation we had and sending it into darkness.” This is no thematic simplicity of cause and effect. So much is embedded into the reference of time and mass and loss; both figure and ground are established and paramount–the earnest conversation between the two is left up to the viewer to grasp and unravel. The work “impels presence” though referencing the inevitably ephemeral through its undeniably “carnal” imagery. The flesh tones, their warmth, its weight, become an abstracted tumbling and struggling heap of life that rises and falls like the breath in one’s chest. The painting possess no deliberate context: the arbitrary scenery, lost for placement or time, becomes the perfect stage for this cyclic struggle. The braided forms mushroom and build without rational or regard to stability before folding in on themselves in a cataclysmic implosion. The grief of the artist’s loss weighs heavy in the air. A raw human reverence is shared.
The show will be open until September 25t. An informative lecture by the visiting artist will be held on September 16th in Room 100 Lee Hall from 5:30-6:30 p.m. This guest lecture will be followed by a reception for the artist in the Lee Gallery and light refreshments will be served.