Having attended a foundation course in Liverpool, Jo Dunn moved to Leeds and completed a BA (Hons) in the early nineteen eighties. During her studies she discovered the work of abstract animators including Len Lye and Robert Breer. Together with the acquisition of a 16mm rostrum movie camera, this led Jo into the field of animation, laboriously producing images frame by frame for short animated films running at twelve frames per second. By the end of the decade Jo was recognized as an animator of some distinction winning awards for her films at international competitions, working for Yorkshire TV, and collaborating with other film-makers.
Despite her success as an animator, Jo never abandoned painting, working on abstract compositions and landscapes in both oil and watercolour. This exhibition incorporates work from four decades and illustrates a consistent and thoughtful approach to both her subject and use of media.
I first met Jo at the opening of an exhibition at the Bono Art Gallery in early 2013, where we chatted about painting and she kindly gave me a postcard of her work. We subsequently met on numerous occasions and a mutual respect for each other’s working practice grew from there.
My utter admiration for the work that Jo produces derives from my understanding of the painting process through the eyes of a practitioner. As I work in oils I am able to explore ideas in the early stages of a painting making changes as I go along, scraping back areas I am dissatisfied with and editing the image to suit my developing message. This process is similar to that of a film-maker shooting and re-shooting footage until the aim is met. In Jo’s work there is no margin for error. The marks she produces are spontaneous and indelible. While one mark may effect the look of another by sharing the same space within the composition, the fact that one brush stroke preceded another means that a history of the artists hand across the space is forever frozen in time. As I drew the comparison of working in opaque layers of oil to the editing process of a film-maker, so too can we draw the comparison of Jo’s process, laid bare, to that of a live performance, a ballet across a white rectangle. One error and the performance is forever destroyed.
Recent work has seen Jo returning to oil paint in a way that capitalizes on the development of this sense of immediacy in her watercolours. Using a gesso paste as a ground to prime the paper, Jo allows ridges to appear on the surface. Then using oil pigment diluted with large amounts of turps, Jo reinvents the effect of watercolours with the added history of the priming process. The effect of these processes allows the viewer a penetrating incite into the way in which each image is made.
Working with a Japanese calligrapher, Jo has been exploring work in ink on rice paper and learning the traditional and methodical process of making a mark in a zen like way. To do this Jo describes a ritual of emptying her head of all thoughts before committing each mark to the page. It is the commitment to these practices that makes Jo Dunn one of the most interesting artists it has been my pleasure to know. Her work is insightful and thought provoking, energy filled while calm, colourful while muted, and beyond all else it is beautiful and timeless.
David Veron. Sept 2014.