Scout Dunbar

'Fleeting' is one of the prints in her show at Multi-faceted Minerals on the Commons

The metaphor of artwork as maze is a useful tool for engaging with the prints and drawings of local artist Scout Dunbar. While making a picture, her effort typically centers on the construction of a unified, seemingly instantaneous impression – a sense of the image as a whole. Dunbar’s pieces work on that level. But to understand them fully requires some time and an exploratory sensibility, a willingness to crawl around with your eyes.

Although predominantly abstract, themes drawn from astronomy dominate much of her recent work. Stiff, linear tracings evoking constellations and orbits lend clarity and orientation to nebulous clouds and spottings. Analogies can also be made to Jackson Pollock’s webs of flung paint, Vija Celmins’ detailed renderings of waves and stars, and to depictions of atomic particles. This is a richly allusive abstraction, evoking the complexity and metaphorical resonance of the material world.

Dunbar is an Ithaca native and a recent BFA graduate at Alfred University where she specialized in printmaking, learning a range of traditional approaches.

She is showing her prints and drawings this month and next at Multi-faceted Minerals on the Commons. “The collected works of artist Scout Dunbar” is small, but is much to see. The setting of the store – which displays an array of beautiful minerals – is fitting for this, her first local solo show. Wonderment before the complexity and strangeness of nature is a unifying element.

Two large panoramic prints, the stylistically coherent “Fleeting” and “Float,” dominate a wall with their scale and hallucinatory intensity. Their punchy sense of tonal contrast (mid-tones against black) help anchor a dizzying range of textures coalescing into forms or threatening to dissolve back into void. One’s sense of figure and ground becomes deliriously confused. Graphic drama becomes cosmology.

Like other digitally printed pieces here, their imagery originates in more traditional fine-art printmaking techniques.

The range in her prints here is impressive without detracting from the show’s tight focus. “Moment,” an etching, shows finely grained stardust against the overwhelming blackness of space.  The digital “Terrain” brings us closer into the celestial sputter. “Passing” incorporates a tondo (circular) format – although the action spills out on to the whiteness of the rectangular sheet. It combines etching with ink and acrylic, the latter giving it a subtle turquoise tinge that makes it stand out among the predominantly black and white prints. (Several others have still fainter tints of color.)

Two pieces offer innovative approaches to collage. In her digital print “Line Series 2” Dunbar creates a curtain-like effect of horizontal movement using upright paper strips pinned at different depths across a broad sheet. That back-surface has a richness of its own: pale celestial circles and branch-like diagonals emerge from a black background amidst clouds of almost photographic-looking micro-texture.

“Release” is striking, both for its densely intricate beauty and for its unlikely but surprisingly effective technique. In a painterly way, Dunbar has attached myriad scraps of paper bearing photocopied etchings to a large stretched canvas. Small “butterflies” – torn paper wings and cut antennae, paper pulp bodies – dot the surface.

The influence of modernist artist Paul Klee – a great pioneer of small-scale and intricately convoluted form in European painting – is evident in three small black ink drawings. Stiff, uneven grids cover the surfaces: sometimes faint, sometimes darker. Subtle, thin washes of acrylic color form horizontal bands. Alongside dots and constellations, these suggest musical notation. The hill-like contours of “Observatory 1” and “Observatory 2” evoke natural landscape, the intersecting boxes and pyramids of “City” architectural diagrams. (The latter also incorporates collage.) The geometrical severity of these pieces provides a compelling counterpoint to lusher, more fluid imagery of her prints.

This is a strong show: a collection of diverse and experimental pieces by a promising young artist. Although the work is related to a certain strand of contemporary art-making it feels novel and unique in its local context.

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