Nicole Duennebier, born in 1983, grew up in East Hampton, Connecticut, and graduated from the Maine College of Art in 2005. She began exhibiting her work in Portland the very same year. Her acrylic paintings depict colorful, organic masses that evolve out of darkness. She draws inspiration from nature, land and sea, as well as works from the followers of Caravaggio. This baroque master’s obsession with darkness, Duennebier says, “leads his paintings to appear to be nothing more then a void impregnated with pin-pricks of light.” His style is often characterized by the use of tenebrism; predominately dark tonality with the use of light to draw focus to important features in the composition. This style is evident in many of Duennebier’s own paintings, such as Blue Crack-up in which dotted swirls of light appear against a dark background and circle around a mass in the center of the composition.
When viewed closer, her paintings are not always the visualizations of beauty that they may seem to be from a distance. She created a series of work in which she used the fungi Cordyceps as the subject. This fungi attacks insects and then emerges from their corpses and engulfs them. The New Britian Museum of American Art exhibited this series, which she had entitled “The Amalgamates,” last year as part of the museum’s NEW/NOW series. The Museum now owns her work Undergrowth from 2009. Undergrowth depicts the wild plant-life that grows underneath the sea. The bottom of the painting has a dripping effect that creates contrast from the forms of the plant-life above.
I think of the masses in my paintings as fruiting bodies, malignant growths that take on a lavish formation. They are not lying still but are very slowly expanding out across the terrain, usurping surrounding materials. These figures become garish amalgamations of color and texture. […] Within the delicacy of the masses there is the indication of ‘festering’ in the form of sodden underbellies and noxious fumes that rise into the air.
Duennebier has received many positive reviews of her work. The images she presents to the viewer have been described using such elaborate adjectives as: phantasmagorical, ornamental, luxurious, sumptuous, beautifully repulsive, mysterious, monstrous, eerily beautiful, haunting, “exquisitely elegant yet hideously repulsive,” and so on. Her work is still exhibited in Portland at Aucocisco Galleries.
Explore Duennebier’s online gallery of her work from 2005 to present on her website.
What do you think of Duennebier’s use of subjects such as the Cordyceps? Is her work still beautiful? Do you think you would feel differently about her work if you had seen the paintings from a distance at first and then up close?