Un/Natural Occurrence


Artist Deborah Dancy

Artist Deborah Dancy
In works with a visceral, spontaneous feel, Deborah Dancy explores the amorphous zone between abstraction and representation.
Text by Robert Kiener
Deborah Dancy Hey Diddle Diddle
Hey Diddle Diddle (2012), oil on canvas, 60″H × 60″W
Deborah Dancy Self
Self (2015), digital print, 12″H × 12″WSelf (2015), digital print, 12″H × 12″W
Deborah Dancy Residue and Thingness
Residue and Thingness (2016), digital print, 25″H × 24″W
Deborah Dancy Queen Bea
Queen Bea (2016), digital print, 48″H × 58″W
Deborah DancyI Did Not See That Coming
I Did Not See That Coming (2016), oil on canvas, 32″H × 34″W
Deborah Dancy Gray Slump
Gray Slump 1 (2016), digital print, 30″H × 40″W.
Deborah Dancy Good Vibrations
Good Vibrations (2016), oil on canvas, 48″H × 54″W
Deborah Dancy
Deborah Dancy
Deborah Dancy Be Still My Beauty
Be Still My Beauty (2015), digital print, 20″H x 20″W
With Miles Davis’s moody, improvisational Stairway to the Gallows blasting away in the background, Deborah Dancy layers thick gobs of blue oil paint onto a just-begun abstract painting in her spacious, light-filled Storrs studio. She uses a brush to add a sinuous green line, then coats on yellow paint with a plastic spatula. Pausing, she stands back and inspects her work before hurriedly scraping off much of the paint she’s just added.
Oblivious to a friend who has quietly walked into her studio, she’s lost in the moment, caught up in what she has called the “conversation” or “orchestration” she has with every painting and drawing she creates. Dancy, a much-lauded painter who lists a Guggenheim Fellowship among her many awards and grants, stands back and considers her painting.
“It’s a beautiful mess,” she says with a broad smile as she lays down a brush that’s heavy with oil paint. As she looks over her work she adds, “It might stay a butt-ugly mess or turn into something beautiful. I never know. When I am painting, I am going in blind, and I may come out bruised and battered thinking, ‘What the hell happened in there?’ Other times it goes wonderfully, and I think, ‘Wow, what the hell happened in there?’ It’s a matter of intonation. I never know until I’m finished.”
Dancy, who has taught art at the University of Connecticut for the last thirty-five years and whose work has been included in scores of collections from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to Detroit’s Institute of Arts to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, confesses that she is fascinated with the “unexpected” in her abstract art. “I like to keep ‘thingness’ at bay; I want my work to be an exploration, ambiguous and beautiful,” she says.
In addition to her paintings, Dancy also creates drawings on paper that she describes as “first cousins, once removed from paintings.” As she says, “Drawings happen faster. Because they are not on canvas, they are a much more direct type of attack. Working on paper, or taking photographs, which I also do, is like learning another language. Both are an extension of my painting.”
Because her work is abstract, she is used to people questioning her about what a piece “means.”
“I am completely okay with someone asking me, ‘What does this mean?’ or ‘Why did you put this here?’ ” she says, “There’s nothing wrong with asking.” Her ideal viewer, she explains, is someone who is willing to “take a journey” with her. “Experiencing a painting of mine can be like going to a country that is completely different. I want someone to embrace the different, the difficult, the frightening—even the ugly—in a culture that is vastly different from their own. I like someone who may not know exactly how to decipher my work.” She laughs as she admits, “Sometimes even I don’t know what to make of it!”
Her often-whimsical titles, such as This is Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into or I Did Not See That Coming reveal her subtle sense of humor.
Manhattan gallery owner Gaines Peyton, who has represented Dancy for almost two decades, says, “Deborah’s work is so visceral, nuanced, and lyrical that buyers inevitably develop their own connection with her paintings. They find them continually compelling.”
While Dancy’s present work is colorful and expressive, she was widely recognized for much more somber, darker paintings she created in the 1990s that were based on her investigations into her own African-American heritage. “These works reflected my exploration of my ancestors,” she explains. “It was a difficult time, realizing that I couldn’t trace my family earlier than the 1870 census because they were then listed as property.”
After working—and re-working—her painting, Dancy turns off Miles Davis and stows her oil paints for another day. She smiles when she’s asked why she paints. “I have to,” she answers as she wipes thick gobs of oil from a spatula. “It is who I am. It is a need, a drive. I love making a mark on canvas. I love the way that sometimes something serendipitously happens that makes me sit back and say ‘WOW! I can’t not be an artist!’ ” •
Editor’s note: Deborah Dancy is represented by the Sears-Peyton Gallery, New York City, searspeyton.com. To see more of her work, visit deborahdancy.com
New England Home Magazine


Contributed by Sharon Butler / Co-curators Daphne Anderson Deeds and Jacquelyn Gleisner have organized “State of Abstraction,” a sophisticated  group exhibition comprising elegant work by more than twenty Connecticut artists who explore a wide range of abstract strategies. Thoughtfully installed at the Washington Art Association, the work speaks of emotion, material experimentation, history, and the meditative process of making.
State of Abstraction,” curated by Daphne Anderson Deeds and Jacquelyn Gleisner. Artists include Cat Balco, Melanie Carr, Julia Coash, Kevin Daly, Deborah Dancy, Howard El-Yasin, Roxanne Faber Savage, Joseph Fucigna, Elizabeth Gourlay, Hong Hong, Blinn Jacobs, Zachary Keeting, Bob Knox, Connie Pfeiffer, Janet Lage, David Livingston, Ken Lovell, Olu Oguibe, Ryan Paxton, Tim Prentice, Suzan Shutan, Matthew Weber, and John Willis. Washington Art Association & Gallery and The Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens, Washington Depot, CT. Through June 16, 2018

Ordinary Beast

Thrilled to have my photo as the cover art for Nicole Sealey's critically acclaimed new book of poems, published by HarperCollins.



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