Richard Dunn

Untitled (Wittgenstein’s Colours) #12, 2003
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
170.0 x 137.5 cm

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The artist

Anne Marie Freybourg, Knut Ebeling and Stian Grogaard, Richard Dunn – Manifold – Paintings + Photography, Jovis, 2005, pp. 24-27 for other works in the series 

In Wittgenstein’s Colours, Richard Dunn initiates a visual conversation between German modernist philosophy and the Central Australian landscape.

The German analytical philosopher and logician Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in his Philosophical Remarks (1926): "It is obvious there is no relation of 'existence' between colour and the place in which it exists…There is no intermediary element between colour and space…Colour and space saturate each other. And the way they permeate each other constitutes the visual field."

Using the colours Wittgenstein himself selected in the design of his sister’s home in Vienna, Dunn was struck by the sympathetic resonance the colours struck with the Australian landscape. 

In 2002, Richard Dunn wrote of Wittgenstein’s Colours
“This suite of paintings was generated by the specific colours used by Wittgenstein as the architect of his sister’s house in Vienna and in his discussion of colour in his writings. In this house, Wittgenstein challenged modernist idealism, accommodating subtleties of colour, cultural diversity including eastern and western ideas and objects. Misunderstood over time, this house (and its author) has been a longstanding source of speculative fascination for me.

The colours defy easy description; they are complex and difficult to name, transcending the bounds of simple colour naming. Complex colour defeats language. Instead it requires a visual response, and contemplation. The locality of this meditation on colour coincidentally reflects the colours of a closer Australian landscape, a deflection that can refer to an Australian locality in a particular way.”  (

Ten works from Dunn's Wittgenstein’s Colours suite are in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

  • Untitled (Wittgenstein’s Colours) #12

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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.