Richard Dunn

Redbank Gorge, 1936 (after Albert Namatjira) cutout #2 - small version, 2002-17/18
acrylic on cotton polyester
169.8 x 137.8 cm
signed, dated and inscribed with title (on the reverse)

View extended notes

The artist, Sydney

Redlands Minolta Konica Prize, National Art School, Sydney, 15 March-12 May 2018

Richard Dunn’s Paintings after Albert Namatjira reveal painting to be not so much a vocabulary or language as a material experience, as much visceral as it is visual. With his work at the nexus of conceptualism and minimalism, Dunn’s appropriation of Australia’s most famous indigenous artist is not about replicating Namatjira’s sense of country or landscape per se. Rather, Dunn’s interest in the gorges, chasms and bluffs of central and northern Australia derives from how this original experience of the landscape leads to “the most abstract and ambiguous compositions” that the artist could imagine (Christina Davidson, The Future is Unwritten: Richard Dunn’s Paintings After Namatjira, 2011). 

Dunn’s work borrows its composition from Albert Namatjira’s Redbank Gorge, a watercolour from 1936 that Dunn first saw at the National Gallery of Australia in 2002. Dunn was particularly taken by the gorge, which he has also visited, feeling that it lent itself as much to an abstract treatment as a representational one. His appropriations of Namatjira took two phases beginning in 2002 with eight paintings resulting. Dunn’s aim was not to reproduce the original landscape painting and its associated feelings of country and place but, rather, to study the formal elements of Namatjira’s original image. The resulting images takes the concept to a beautiful extreme, reducing the original image to a greatly limited palette and jagged colour fields.

  • Redbank Gorge, 1936 (after Albert Namatjira) cutout #2 - small version

Image courtesy of the artist

View artist profile

Richard Dunn's practice as a conceptual artist has traversed fields as disparate as hard-edged abstraction, minimalist installation and landscape appropriations of Albert Namatjira. Born in 1944 in Sydney and currently living and working between Sydney and Melbourne, Dunn's work regularly refers to art history, literature and philosophy to add layers of complexity to how colours, images or forms are perceived.

Having trained as an architect, there is a strong underlying sense of structure to all Dunn's works and series, such as the Wittgenstein's Colours series (2002), in which Dunn took a colour palette used by Wittgenstein in the renovation of his sister's Vienna home and the philosophical and modernist implications of these palettes. Unlike Kandinsky, whose understanding of colour was governed by spirituality, Dunn's response to colour is more nuanced, not about matching emotions to colours in a prescriptive fashion, but about the transcendent quality that colour has to engage with the human mind. As Dunn wrote about this series: "Complex colour defeats language."

Dunn has held more than 60 solo shows and 100 group exhibitions over a career spanning nearly six decades. He has been the subject of major survey shows at the Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (1994) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1992). He has held recent solo shows in contemporary art spaces in Shibukawa and Nagoya, Japan (2014); and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi (2010). In 1984-85, Dunn was part of the MOMA PS1 International Studio Program, which led to a 1985 exhibition at PS1, New York. He has been a visiting professor at the National Academy of Fine Art, Oslo (2000); artist-in-residence, Kunstammlungen Chemnitz, Germany (2000); guest professor, Kunstakademie Dusseldorf (2003); and he was an External Examiner, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh.