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Inside/Out: Caitlin Duennebier

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After hiatus, Big Red & Shiny is pleased to continue Inside/Out, our artist-in-residence series. Inside/Out last ran during 2012 through 2013, and offered a space in which artists could discuss their studio practice and work. In this new iteration, a guest artist in residence is invited to write about their ideas, research, and challenges, and publish their inspirations, obsessions, creative experiences, and insights. Unlike an 'Open Studio' format, which is often predicated on potential sales, BR&S wants to provide the artist-in-residence with an outlet to place their practice in a more public realm, offering an expanded look at the creative process and placing emphasis on the time ideas and works take to mature. It is not expected that the artist produces anything finished or specific to BR&S in this time, only that they candidly share their explorations.

We’re excited to welcome Caitlin Duennebier as the first artist to help us bring back the series. Working out of her Watertown attic studio under the name “Oh Papa,” Duennebier uses a variety of mediums and a narrative style to create what she calls “a cast of oddball characters.” Her work has been shown at Thomas Young Gallery, Lincoln Arts Project, and Space Gallery. Trained as a photographer, she earned her BFA at MassArt before moving overseas in 2009 to study at University of the Arts London. It wasn’t until this shift in location that she put down her camera and returned to drawing and painting. In her first post, Duennebier talks about this transition, her introduction to art at a young age and the serendipitous, everyday moments that continue to inform her work. —Scout Hutchinson


 

Image of Caitlin Duennebier with her painting "We Saw the Gum Drops Gleaming Miles Away." Courtesy of the artist.

Image of Caitlin Duennebier with her painting "We Saw the Gum Drops Gleaming Miles Away." Courtesy of the artist.

My father introduced me to photography at a young age. He’d be tinkering in our basement darkroom and I became interested in the process. He showed me how to develop my own film on metal reels, and how to mix the chemicals. He taught me everything I needed to know. Although I had a knack for photography, I was always interested in painting and drawing. My sister and mother are amazing painters, but I never felt I could ever be as good as them or have my own style of painting.

When I graduated from college I didn’t expect the darkroom to be so violently ripped away from me. No longer did I have that community or space to work. Film, chemistry and the ability to rent a darkroom were quickly dying out and becoming more and more expensive. I started using what was more accessible to me: pencils, paint, a large roll of printer paper, plywood from my ex-husband’s workshop. I began painting these simple, naïve characters and animals. A friend who helped run Lincoln Arts Project in Waltham came to visit me in London and encouraged me to paint more. Coming up with strange narratives and expressions made me happy. My photography was introverted and dark—I began to feel that wasn’t who I was or wanted to be.

Photography still  informs my practice in ways. What I learned in photography about composition, texture, and color still carries over into my painting. I have a habit of collecting images off the internet of things I find funny—expressions and poses I like—that are often incorporated in my work.

Caitlin Duennebier, "Where is the snake? I can see it has eaten my entire family." Liquid tempera on bond paper. 141 x 107 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Caitlin Duennebier, "Where is the snake? I can see it has eaten my entire family." Liquid tempera on bond paper. 141 x 107 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

I moved back to Boston from London in 2014 because my marriage broke down and it was time for me to start fresh. It has been said that London is one of the loneliest cities, which I definitely experienced. I’ve stayed in Boston because of the art culture. I found the art world in London to be isolating and territorial while Boston artists are very willing to share information, contacts and collaborate. That was immensely refreshing to me.

The narratives I depict are often heavy with female empowerment. I like to play with the idea of women and men being equal—both sexes being topless. I started exploring these themes around the time of the end of my marriage. I was striving to regain my independence and found sexism in the UK to be stifling. In a discussion with my sister we spoke of the feminist aspect of my work: that my female characters bring back that Amazonian woman ideal but they’re not sexualized—they’re just being practical. We hated the idea of a shirtless man being the epitome of manliness while a shirtless woman is vulnerable and shameful.

People on the street are very inspiring to me. I’m a big people-watcher and often find myself cracking up while cycling down Mass Ave because I’ll witness the strangest interactions. It’s these interactions that I bring back to my studio and that give me inspiration for the narratives I create. I like people to view my work in the same way that I view people on the street. The initial furrowing of the brow, the thought of “What the hell is going on?”—and then laughing.

In the last couple of years, I have been in collaboration with my sister, Nicole Duennebier. We fill in each other’s blind spots and have the same sense of humor. I do the figures and Nicole does the scenery. It started with three giant dioramas called Battle for the Sweetlands that showcased at Space Gallery in Portland, ME. We also collaborated on three-panel paintings for the Isles Arts Initiative at the Boston Sculptors Gallery. Our upcoming project is another set of dioramas called Hello Hell, depicting scenes of Hell framed in two full-sized coffins. We will be working on this at the Hewnoaks Artist Colony for a couple of weeks over the summer.

Caitlin Duennebier and Nicole Duennebier, "Swims' at Hingham Islands," 2015. Acrylic on wood panel. Courtesy of the artists.

Caitlin Duennebier and Nicole Duennebier, "Swims' at Hingham Islands," 2015. Acrylic on wood panel. Courtesy of the artists.

Currently, I am working on a solo project called OK GREAT DAY, which is an ongoing experiment about giving unconditionally. Participants are sent a cassette tape with individually curated music and sounds recorded from my day-to-day interactions. As I listen to the recordings, I make a small painting to fit in the tape case. I like the idea of these artworks being a trivial time capsule and enjoy how people react to being given a personal object. Perhaps I just enjoy art that is as fleeting and wonderful as a sly smile.

 

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About Author

Caitlin Duennebier is an artist based in Boston, MA, where she creates work under the name "Oh Papa." She earned her BFA in photography at MassArt, and studied abroad on scholarship at University of the Arts London. Her work has been shown at Space Gallery, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Lincoln Arts Project and Thomas Young Gallery.

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