‘The world of a Carrol Dunham painting is exuberant, irrational, menacing and comic. It slips fluidly between abstraction and representation. Creatures seemingly coalesce from the sludge of the subconscious, feeling their way blind through the painterly terrain’ (H.M. Sheets, ‘An “Art World Secret” Plumbs the Mysterious Id’, New York Times, 27 October 2002).
Executed in 2005, Dead Space (Wall) is a captivating example of Carroll Dunham's exuberant, humorous and experimental painterly practice. The feature-less polymorphous male, hilariously literalizing the phallic symbol, is one of the central motifs Dunham has been exploring since the late 1990s, and presents itself here clad in a brown hat and grey suit against the abstract, virtuously rendered landscape. Brimming with formal virtuosity, vibrancy and suggestive abundance, this mysterious figure attests to the influence of Philip Guston and Robert Matta on the artist whilst seeking to articulate his own artistic language in the early 1980s. As the artist explained, ‘I still think what I’m doing is abstraction in the sense that my urges or intentions have nothing to do with depicting the world. I can’t draw in that way. I have to go inwards to find how to do it’ (C. Dunham, quoted in H.M. Sheets, ‘An “Art World Secret” Plumbs the Mysterious Id’, New York Times, 27 October 2002). Abundantly veiled with ambiguous imagery and symbolism, Dunham's work hums its own Surrealist agenda as it plumbs into psychological depths; rendered with bold, black outlines across the tactile, variegated canvas, Dunham’s figures echo the artifice and anarchic spirit of classic cartoon animation. ‘The whole cluster of things around cartoon and animation is one of the common denominators in our visual language,’ Dunham explained, ‘almost analogous to what we think of as primitivism it is not necessary to explain. It’s also a vehicle for a lot of very disturbing things to be presented without being disturbing’ (C. Dunham, quoted in H.M. Sheets, ‘An “Art World Secret” Plumbs the Mysterious Id’, New York Times, 27 October 2002).