Seeing an artist’s workspace is often a reminder of what it takes to make it as an artist. Sheila Dunn used to paint in a friend’s garage where she dressed warmly to combat the chill. These days, her studio is in a second-story bedroom with a futon that sleeps the occasional guest. This studio, perhaps just another stepping stone, is a snapshot of a young painter with a part-time job and a full-time passion for canvas.
The former yoga instructor from Colorado lives and paints in an apartment off a busy Bend residential street. She offers tea and then leads the way up a narrow staircase to her studio. The room is small but the painting in progress is large—six feet by five feet—and occupies the majority of the wall. It’s hard to imagine her getting the canvas up the stairs.
Women are a common theme in her art, although she does occasional male portraits and admits that she’s even done a few dog commissions. She said her work explores the integration of living subjects with the environment. Lines between a figure and the background get blurred. Bodies are fractured, pixilated into shimmering colors and geometric brushstrokes. “I try to stay loose and not overwork my paintings,” said Dunn.
Mentor and fellow painter, Stefan Kleinschuster of Los Angeles, said, “Sheila’s paintings display mastery in both ‘abstract patternistic’ beauty and the deep ‘correctness’ or ‘rightness’ of the realism of her subjects. This makes for a very rich and satisfying visual and visceral experience, and a melting, sumptuous sensation communicating deeper truths.”
When Dunn is in the studio, the process consumes her. “Painting is something I have to do,” she said. “I can’t imagine not doing it.” Balance is sometimes difficult to achieve but a part-time job as a graphic designer for Mosaic Medical helps ward off isolation.
At thirty-two, Dunn feels that she’s at a point where art could fully sustain her. Her work can be found all over Central Oregon, including the Bend Visitor Center and in fifty private collections. She avoids galleries and prefers to sell directly to people on Etsy, her website (sheiladunnart.com) or showings in businesses such as Velvet, Deschutes Brewery, Naked Winery and Bellatazza.
With a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Colorado State University, a body of growing work, including prints and wall murals, Dunn will continue exploring new ideas and styles. “I have a whole lifetime to create,” she said.