Oblivious to a friend who has quietly walked into her studio, she’s lost in the moment, caught up in what she has called the “conversation” or “orchestration” she has with every painting and drawing she creates. Dancy, a much-lauded painter who lists a Guggenheim Fellowship among her many awards and grants, stands back and considers her painting.
“It’s a beautiful mess,” she says with a broad smile as she lays down a brush that’s heavy with oil paint. As she looks over her work she adds, “It might stay a butt-ugly mess or turn into something beautiful. I never know. When I am painting, I am going in blind, and I may come out bruised and battered thinking, ‘What the hell happened in there?’ Other times it goes wonderfully, and I think, ‘Wow, what the hell happened in there?’ It’s a matter of intonation. I never know until I’m finished.”
Dancy, who has taught art at the University of Connecticut for the last thirty-five years and whose work has been included in scores of collections from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to Detroit’s Institute of Arts to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, confesses that she is fascinated with the “unexpected” in her abstract art. “I like to keep ‘thingness’ at bay; I want my work to be an exploration, ambiguous and beautiful,” she says.
In addition to her paintings, Dancy also creates drawings on paper that she describes as “first cousins, once removed from paintings.” As she says, “Drawings happen faster. Because they are not on canvas, they are a much more direct type of attack. Working on paper, or taking photographs, which I also do, is like learning another language. Both are an extension of my painting.”
Because her work is abstract, she is used to people questioning her about what a piece “means.”
“I am completely okay with someone asking me, ‘What does this mean?’ or ‘Why did you put this here?’ ” she says, “There’s nothing wrong with asking.” Her ideal viewer, she explains, is someone who is willing to “take a journey” with her. “Experiencing a painting of mine can be like going to a country that is completely different. I want someone to embrace the different, the difficult, the frightening—even the ugly—in a culture that is vastly different from their own. I like someone who may not know exactly how to decipher my work.” She laughs as she admits, “Sometimes even I don’t know what to make of it!”
Her often-whimsical titles, such as This is Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into or I Did Not See That Coming reveal her subtle sense of humor.
Manhattan gallery owner Gaines Peyton, who has represented Dancy for almost two decades, says, “Deborah’s work is so visceral, nuanced, and lyrical that buyers inevitably develop their own connection with her paintings. They find them continually compelling.”
While Dancy’s present work is colorful and expressive, she was widely recognized for much more somber, darker paintings she created in the 1990s that were based on her investigations into her own African-American heritage. “These works reflected my exploration of my ancestors,” she explains. “It was a difficult time, realizing that I couldn’t trace my family earlier than the 1870 census because they were then listed as property.”
After working—and re-working—her painting, Dancy turns off Miles Davis and stows her oil paints for another day. She smiles when she’s asked why she paints. “I have to,” she answers as she wipes thick gobs of oil from a spatula. “It is who I am. It is a need, a drive. I love making a mark on canvas. I love the way that sometimes something serendipitously happens that makes me sit back and say ‘WOW! I can’t not be an artist!’ ” •
Editor’s note: Deborah Dancy is represented by the Sears-Peyton Gallery, New York City, searspeyton.com. To see more of her work, visit deborahdancy.com
Contributed by Sharon Butler / Co-curators Daphne Anderson Deeds and Jacquelyn Gleisner have organized “State of Abstraction,” a sophisticated group exhibition comprising elegant work by more than twenty Connecticut artists who explore a wide range of abstract strategies. Thoughtfully installed at the Washington Art Association, the work speaks of emotion, material experimentation, history, and the meditative process of making.
Thrilled to have my photo as the cover art for Nicole Sealey's critically acclaimed new book of poems, published by HarperCollins.
- The Bookness of Not-Books
By Albert Mobilio
- I once owned a hardback edition of Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence that had served time at the top of a bedside pile; its cover and spine had acquired several islands of melted wax from the candle it helped support. Running my fingers from the smooth dollops to the grainy fabric—an illegible but sensual braille—always afforded a small pleasure, even if the reading itself offered much less. That long-ago volume came to mind recently while holding a copy of an artist’s book by Deborah Dancy titled Winter Morning in the rare-book room of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Dancy’s slim book is made from wax-impregnated paper into which snippets of found text have been pressed. Light as wafer, the book almost hovered in my hands, and turning its stiff, deeply yellowed pages felt like exploring a precious archaeological artifact.
I was fortunate to handle this rare and fragile objet at the invitation of Rena Hoisington, a curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where she mounted the current show “Off the Shelf: Modern and Contemporary Artists’ Books.” The extensive range of artists and writers includes, among many others, Grace Hartigan, Picasso, Frank O’Hara, Ed Ruscha, Kandinsky, Susan Howe, Mayakovsky, Barbara Kruger, Robert Creeley, Kiki Smith, and, of course, the master of the artists’ book, the Swiss Conceptualist Dieter Roth. Equally wide is the breadth of approach: from Ruscha, there is an edition of Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, the photos printed on an accordion-folded sheet in the order they appeared on Route 66, going west to east; from Barbara Kruger and Stephen King, a large-format volume with a stainless-steel cover and an embedded digital clock; from three authors—Pasolini, Luisa Famos, Andri Peer—and the artist Not Vital, a series of poems written in Rhaeto-Romansh (the national language of Switzerland) and printed on pages custom made from cedar bark that sport attached objects, such as a saw blade. The rich variety of constructions and materials, as well as the methods of representing text—thickly rendered in paint, printed in chaotic typefaces, scrawled across images—beckons the viewer to reach out and touch. Read More
- Alberto Savinio
- Artists' books
- Baltimore Museum of Art
- Barbara Kruger
- Blaise Cendrars
- Deborah Dancy
- Dieter Roth
- Ed Ruscha
- Ferdnand Léger
- Francesco Clemente
- Frank O'Hara
- Grace Hartigan
- Kiki Kogelnik
- Lewis Carroll
- Marcel Duchamp
- Mark Twain
- Not Vital
- Pablo Picasso
- Pierre Reverdy
- Rena Hoisington
- Robert Creeley
- Somerset Maugham
- Susan Howe
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Vladimir Mayakovsky
- Walasse Ting
K. IMPERIAL FINE ART
June 22 – August 27, 2016
Opening Reception: Thursday, July 7th 5:30 – 7:30pm
K. Imperial Fine Art is pleased to present Pernicious Beauty, its first solo exhibition of the work of Deborah Dancy.
Deborah’s work examines the intersection between abstraction and representation. That grey area just before an image defines itself. “The poetic region of the incomplete, the fragment, the ruin and residue of ‘almost was’ and ‘might become.’ I construct imagined forms from my curiosity and examination of the disjointed properties that exist between natural and architectural structures. I build on these oddly similar properties by merging disconcerting color, abutments and abrupt juxtapositions to fabricate work where reason is suspended and beauty is suspect; paint is both hard and lush and line defines and deflates. In the end, I want to create
an ambiguous yet real space where these elements collide, mutate and coexist.” -- Deborah Dancy
In addition to her paintings, Deborah will present selections of photographs from the series “Leaning Tower of Painting Mishaps and Slumps”. Depicting clay sculptures reminiscent of the paint scrapings and residue from her painting process, she considers these works extensions of her paintings.
Deborah Dancy is currently a professor of art at the University of Connecticut and has been on the faculty in the Department of Art and Art History since 1981. She has received numerous significant honors and awards, including: a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, New England Foundation for the Arts/NEA Individual Artist Grant, Nexus Press Artist Book Project Award, Visual Studies Artist Book Project Residency Grant, The American Antiquarian Society’s William Randolph Hearst Fellowship, a YADDO Fellow, Women’s Studio Workshop Residency Grant, Connecticut Commission of the Arts Artist Grant, as well as a Connecticut Book Award Illustration Nominee.
She has exhibited nationally and internationally at museums and institutions such as The Fuller Museum, The Housatonic Museum, The Mattatuck Museum, The College of Saint Rose, The University of Rhode Island, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, The Spencer Museum, The Mead Art Museum, SACI Gallery, Florence, Italy, The US Embassy in Paris, and The DeCordova Museum. Her work is included in the collections of The Boston Museum of Fine, The Birmingham Museum of Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Montgomery Museum of Art, The Spencer Museum of Art, The Hunter Museum of Art, Vanderbilt University, Grinnell College, Oberlin College Museum of Art, Davidson Art Center, The Detroit Museum of Art, Wesleyan, Davidson Art Center, SACI Gallery, Florence, Italy, The Detroit Museum of Art, Wesleyan University, The Bellagio Hotel, and The United States Embassy in Cameroon.
Pernicious Beauty will be on view June 22 – August 27, 2016 with a reception for the artist Thursday, July 7th 5:30 - 7:30pm.
Image: Bouquet, 2015, oil on canvas, 36” x 40”
49 Geary St., Ste. 440, San Francisco, CA 94108 | 415-277-7230 | kimperialfineart.com
Connecticut Artists Collection
Violets and Vinegar
oil on canvas
(purchased in 1994)
The last stop on this tour is the Gallery at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle--or The Castle Hill Gallery for short. The center's director, Cherie Mittenthal (the artist whose work you saw at Kobalt, above), curated a gorgeous show of works on paper by Deborah Dancy and bronze and ceramic sculpture by David Boyajian. Dancy describes her compositions emerging "out of an active engagement of gesture and process." Boyajian deals with "nurturing, generation and growth." The exhibition is a pas de deux of related palettes and fluid expression.
Below: One last image by Deborah Dancy to tide you over to the next installment
Review of the exhibit Chasing the Light, Sears Peyton Gallery
THE BOTTOM LINE
Deborah Dancy, Point Counter Point, 2013. Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. Image courtesy of Sears Peyton Gallery.
Dancy uses drawing in her paintings and works on paper to bridge the gap between abstraction and figuration through the intersection of line, color, and gesture. Dancy’s finished works highlight her process of adding and subtracting paint to attain a particular color palette and surface texture. Her architecturally drawn lines are fundamental to the compositions, holding their own prominence without taking away from the colors that cushion them. Where sharp edges meet soft tones, a conversation between severity and serenity begins and continues throughout the show. Although the style in which Dancy paints seems impulsive, the overall organization of shape and color indicates thought and control.
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Sometimes, as I’m looking through my artists queue and planning which artists to feature, I have to go back and search the Artsy archives because I come across an artist whose work is so fantastic, so just up my alley, that I’m shocked I let this artist’s work sit in queue for so long. I can’t believe I waited so long to share these gorgeous abstract paintings by artist Deborah Dancy. website.
All images via the artist’s website. Artist found via Sears Peyton Gallery.
DANCING IN THE DARK, 2012, OIL ON CANVAS 60″ X 60″
In Tender from 2007 I have manipulated the photo, layering it with altered book pages in photoshop, It’s almost like painting on the photograph. I love the nest of sticks in my lap. They are oddly reminiscent of the forms in my paintings; those tenuous piles precariously balanced over the figures. -Deborah Dancy, 2012
Deborah Dancy named Ella Jackson Chair
The New Black
Faster Than Light Selected and New Poems by Marilyn Nelson. LSU Press, November 2012