You may remember that a few weeks ago I told you all about an event I attended at the Algarve International School (AIS) near Vale do Lobo called The Big Draw. The five local lady artists from the recently formed Quinta Art Collective (Jessica Dunn, Jane Rodenburg, Toin Adams, Andrea M. Bird and Tracy Carson) had come down and were helping the kids splash about with some paint and create, what turned out to be, some really quite beautiful murals on the front wall of the school.
While I was there, Jessica Dunn very kindly invited me to come by and see her studio sometime. Jessica grew up in London but has been coming to the Algarve her whole life and has been based here permanently since 1987. She’s one of those people who, growing up here, I feel like I’ve always heard of but knew embarrassingly little about and so I jumped at the chance to find out more.
The Dunn Studio is located in Boliqueime and Jessica told me that maybe it would be best if we met at the cemetery as people tend to get lost if they try to follow Google any further than that. I met Jessica here and we walked up to the studio. Next to the family house, it was originally built for her father, the much loved comedy actor Clive Dunn (from Dad’s Army), as he always had a huge passion for drawing and painting, something that rubbed off on Jessica, who has been painting her whole life.
Indeed, during my visit, it became apparent that the whole family is a creative one. Her mother, Priscilla Morgan, who I only met briefly, was an actress too, and Jessica's daughters, Alice and Lydia, also paint and draw. This means that all the wall space in the house is covered in drawings of beautiful places and quirky creatures, as well as quite a few portraits they painted of each other. Even outside in the garden, Jessica pointed out a cat statue on the roof she had made and also commented that they should really get around to touching up the mural of tropical birds that her dad painted by the pool. The trouble with everybody being so creative, I began to see, is where to put everything? But there are definitely worse problems. I thought it was wonderful.
But anyway, ‘back to the studio’ (as they say). It was a very circular room, think ‘lighthouse’ sort of shape, and, come to think of it, a lighthouse is a good way to describe it for another reason as well. The many windows allow all that gorgeous Algarvian sunshine to come streaming in and provide the perfect light in which to see Jessica's paintings that are largely inspired by that very same sunlight and the colours and contrast it creates as it dances around familiar scenes from life here in southern Portugal.
You see, although she used to paint more figurative paintings, in the last five years or so she has transitioned into more abstract art and takes her inspiration mainly from sky, land and seascapes. Her work now brilliantly catches the contrast in colours that the sun highlights as it paints the clouds at sunset, or casts shadows through the trees or sparkles on the water.
Indeed, while I was there, a patch in one of the paintings was lit up in the sunshine, bringing out a square of striking bright light orange, which I mistakenly thought was part of the painting. Jessica liked it too and I think I started her mind whirling about how she could replicate that effect on the canvas permanently.
Working with oils and acrylic, Jessica told me how she’s got into the habit of starting all her paintings by bringing them ‘down to earth’ and covers them in a background of a lovely orangey terracotta colour - the same colour you find on the ground in so many places around here. She then proceeds to work her magic, taking her time, adding a splash of paint here and scraping a bit off there, until, eventually, a place or a familiar feeling starts to emerge. She works on several simultaneously and the key, she said, is knowing when to stop.
They are abstract and thus open to your own imagination and interpretation. Indeed, she laughed and showed me one that had recently been exhibited in a gallery the wrong way around and that even she didn’t notice until later when she looked more closely and realized it looked much better the original way up.
She does name them and that gives you a little clue as to the inspiration. My favourite was ‘Somewhere’ with a streak across the sky that I later realized was, of course, a rainbow. (It’s smaller counterpart was placed ‘Way Up High’ in the room next door.)
There was one based on the ‘levant’ dust storms we get from time to time, others take you for a stroll ‘Into The Woods’, and there’s a series of ‘Blue’ paintings to which you will have to make up your own mind if they are sea or the sky.
I was really quite enchanted by Jessica's work and I’m doing my best to describe them, but it’s difficult. I don’t think even photos do them justice - you need to see them for yourself. (Having said that, she does have some beautiful limited edition prints on which you can almost ‘feel the paint’.)
She told me that she had also found a company that takes her paintings and makes scarfs, bags, wallets, pillowcases and even, more recently, masks. Which I think is a wonderful idea as you can now ‘wear her art’ and the brilliant colours of her paintings make the perfect adornments to decorate and light up your day to day life with.
There were lots of unopened packages on the ground which Jessica told me was artwork from the rest of the Quinta Art Collective that had started to arrive. This is because on the weekend of Friday the 3rd of December (from 5 pm - 8.30 pm) and on Saturday & Sunday (between 11 am and 6 pm) they will be holding an exhibition there at the studio with their ‘Small Works’ (so that there’s space to display all of their talents).
If you want to find out more about Jessica's work, then visit her website www.jessicadunnart.com and consider going to this latest exhibition. It sounds like fun!