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Detail of Brenda Dunn's "Into the Wild Blue Yonder"

Exhibition: “We All Fall Down” at Tennessy Willems

By Apartment613 on September 27, 2016

Post by Travis Facette

Artist (and Apt613 contributorBrenda Dunn‘s show “We All Fall Down, on display at Tennessy Willems, is about risk. Leaps of faith, falls from grace, head over heels in lovewe often talk about success and failure, and the risks we take in getting there, using this kind of language. The metaphor is elemental. But adults, Dunn says, fall differently from children; we tense up, we lock our joints, we try hard to stop ourselves and end up getting hurt. If nothing else, we learn to fear what happens when we hit the ground, so we avoid circumstances where we might fall in the first place.


Dunn’s work in this show is spare and minimalist. In watercolours on unprimed birch, she depicts bodies tumbling through the sky, with only swirling clouds as a background. Her subjects are adults and children, men and women, nude and clothed, but it’s the different mood in each piece that is most striking. The children often seem playful or joyful, like they’re jumping on a trampoline or a bed, and some of the adults are leaping or diving athletically, in total control. But many of the subjects are more ambiguous, and some are plainly falling without any control at all. My favourite shows a man from behind, nude and vulnerable, falling backward through the clouds, faceless and with arms outstretched. I probably identify with him a little too strongly.


Dunn, who is also behind the Hintonbeasts that have infested Hintonburg over the last year and the related Build-a-Beast workshops, has a healthy appreciation for how children are often willing to take these leaps, to take risks without fearing the outcome. She believes that holding onto that fear will only make you more vulnerable to the consequences of your actions. None of her paintings show us an origin or a destination; the subjects are always in transit, mid-leap, for better or for worse. All we can observe is their posture, whether reckless or purposeful or terrified or gleeful.

What all of these pieces share is a certain gauzy, ethereal quality. Wispy fabric and multi-coloured clouds bleed into the wood, making everything fuzzy and soft and uncertain. The subtle grain of the birch only adds to the effect. I was curious about this choice. Dunn said that she wanted a medium that would force her to accept some risks of her own by going in unplanned directions. When the birch aggressively soaked up the paint, she had to adapt to the image as it changed. Watercolour is not her primary medium, either, nor is minimalism her usual direction, and part of her goal here was to stop herself from overworking a given piece. The result is a dreamlike but coherent style.

Pieces from “We All Fall Down” are pretty affordable. A small 8×10 will run you just $60, and the medium and large pieces are $200 and $300, respectively, though you should also plan for the price of the pizza you’re definitely going to eat when you head over to take a look.

“We All Fall Down” will be shown at Tennessy Willems until the end of October. You can see more of Brenda Dunn’s work on her website, Instagram and Twitter.