Carroll Dunham



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Carroll Dunham born 1949
Part of
Drypoint on paper
Image: 392 × 579 mm
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of a private collector 2000


This is one in a portfolio of ten images entitled Shadows. The prints are numbered sequentially in the order of creation; each print is dated, some more than once, indicating that the artist worked on them over a number of days, between 9 March and 26 April 1989. The dates appear in reverse on each print as a result of the printing process: Dunham scratched them onto the pewter plates from which each image was printed. He numbered them sequentially after printing. The printing was executed by Keith Brintzenhofe and Craig Zammiello on Richard de Bas handmade paper in the studio of the publisher, Universal Limited Art Editions, West Islip, New York State. The portfolio was printed in an edition of fourteen plus five artists’ proofs, two printers’ proofs and two cancellation proofs. Tate’s copy is the eleventh in the edition.

The subject of Shadows is a biomorphic form repeated through the series. Each version of the form has a range of structural characteristics in common and variations on patterning, background and other extrusions or growths which suggest development, movement or alternative view points. The form is common in Dunham’s imagery of the time. Such works as Floating Shape with Backdrop, 1989-90 (Tate P11892), Touching Two Sides, 1989-90 (Tate P11893) and Pumping Shape, 1990 (Tate P11894) all depict variations on the same form. The creation date is similarly a common feature in Dunham’s drawings of the late 1980s operating as a graphic element, as a diaristic means of ordering chronology for the artist and to include the element of time with the depiction of the body in space. He made several groups of sequential drawings between 1988 and 1990, all featuring a form repeated with changes in detail recalling a series of portraits registering changes of mood in a single person. A later series, his print portfolio Female Portraits, 2000 (Tate P11954-P11966), comprises thirteen versions of a blonde-haired female figure.

In Shadows the shape fills each page. It has a long, pointed cone-like extrusion on one side, from which small knobbles, suckers, bristles, fine hairs or rectangles protrude. All versions of the form have either a vagina-like orifice or one or more penis and testicular extensions; some have both male and female genitalia. Sperm-like tadpoles appear to move in or out of openings in the bodies and globs of matter spurt out of penises and other tubular extrusions. Dunham’s drawings blend straight lines delineating squares and rectangles on a two-dimensional plane with the voluptuous curves of the forms’ outlines and the bulges emerging from them, rendering body boundaries ambiguous. On some pages, the body and the background appear almost to merge, in others they are more clearly distinct. Dunham used a wide range of line to create the suite of images; they combine chaotic scribbles with dense rubbing, fine scratching, delicate hairy lines, energetic spirals and heavy dark shadows with the powdery density of charcoal or graphite.

Dunham’s drawings evoke biological diagrams of cellular structures or primitive life forms at the same time as playing with the act of drawing and instinctual expression. His combination of empty geometric linear patterns with more solid curved structures recalls the paintings of Joan Miró (1893-1983). He has claimed that his obsession with the shapes ‘is part of a desire to create beings or creatures’ (quoted in Drawings, p.6). He has also commented that, ‘it’s like having a séance with yourself – that’s exactly how I think about drawing and painting. As though I’m in contact with some part of myself that I can reach only via this behaviour. Things that are just drifting through your mental space become incarnate as drawings.’ (Quoted in Drawings, p.9.) Dunham’s paintings of this period, such as Shape with Entrance, 1990 (Tate L02310), combine his drawing style with areas of strong colour outlined in black, in the manner of cartoons. His processes may be understood as combining the unconscious intuition of Abstract Expressionism and its precursor Surrealism with the colour and cartoon aesthetic of Pop Art and the formal linear virtuosity of high Modernism.

Further reading:
Dan Cameron, Carroll Dunham: Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Jablonka Gallery, Cologne and Sonnabend Gallery, New York 1990.
Carroll Dunham: Drawings 1988-1991, exhibition catalogue, David Nolan Gallery, New York 1992.
Carroll Dunham, exhibition catalogue, Jablonka Gallery, Cologne 1992.

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2006

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