“The whole cluster of things around cartoon and animation is one of the common denominators in our visual language, almost analogous to what we think of as primitivism… It’s not necessary to explain. It’s also a vehicle for a lot of very disturbing things to be presented without being disturbing.”—Carroll Dunham, 2002 (C. Dunham, quoted in H. M. Sheets, “An Art World Secret Plumbs the Mysterious Id,” The New York Times, 27 October 2002, reproduced at: http://www.blumandpoe.com/sites/default/files/press/NYTimes102702.pdf, accessed October 5, 2014)
Painted in 1990, the colorful biomorphic forms in Carroll Dunham’s Shape with Entrance mixes a number of art-historical and contemporary influences to produce an imaging world of remarkable complexity and vibrancy. Inspired in part by the renewed interest in the work of André Masson and Arshile Gorky, Dunham’s work from this period invokes an almost dreamlike sequence in which he combines vivid color with multifaceted and inexplicable forms that occupy the surface of the canvas. In this work, two of these ambiguous creatures are united as one, as if joined by some form of umbilical cord. Although fantastical, both of these embryonic forms retain distinctly human characteristics, ranging from rudimentary eyes and mouths to the cilia-like hairs that protrude from the surface. Defying explanation, they hover as if suspended in some hallucinogenic primeval soup, waiting for their moment to emerge blinking into the world.
Dunham began to paint these forms in the 1970s, spurred on—in part—by a renewed interest in Surrealism during that period. Departing from the doctrine of the movement, he imbued his forms with comical connotations enhanced by the vibrant colors of contemporary psychedelia. This new work was a dramatic leap from his earlier paintings in the 1970s which had been influenced by Post-minimalism, process art and the work of Brice Marden, Robert Mangold and Robert Ryman in particular. Here, whilst distant elements of these artists remain, Dunham has surrendered completely to the riotous use of color and unrestrained imagination that could only produce forms such as these. A key member of the 1980s New York art scene, Dunham’s work is included in a number of public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum, and the Whitney Museum of Art, New York.