We discovered artist Stuart Dunkel when his paintings first came into the Shain Gallery. It was love at first sight!
Stuart’s imaginative paintings are true to size which helps the viewer to see things from the perspective of the mouse. Everything about Stuart’s work is incredibly detailed and the mice are so lifelike you really expect the mouse to pop out of the painting and onto the counter ledge.
Stuart is one of the gallery artists who will have you popping into the Shain Gallery the moment you get the email that new paintings have arrived. Plus, we have it on good authority that Stuart’s pieces make perfect gifts!
Your interest in art began at a very young age. What sparked your desire to become an artist?
I was five and I guess it was my uncle. He was sort of a hippie and he came to my house and on one of the walls, he drew a nature scene of a tiger crawling down a tree in pastels. It was on our wall for about 15 years.
You work with oil on canvas. What drew you to this medium in particular?
Oils have a very viscous feel. You can really feel the paint. Since oil paint takes a long time to dry, you can blend it over a few days to get the exact look you’re going for. It’s also the most forgiving, making mistakes easy to fix. I also really like the feel and flexibility of oils.
I just love all of the imaginative pieces that you create. What sparks an idea for a new piece?
Sometimes it’s something a gallery requests. For the commission I’m working on now, the gallery wanted something to do with a vineyard. In the painting, I have this wine glass sitting on a stump in a vineyard and the mouse is at the edge of the glass overlooking the vineyard. One thing I always try to add to my paintings is an element of comedy.
I get my best ideas standing in the line at the bank. I always have a sketch pad with me. I think the reason why I get my ideas this way is that it’s so out of place that my subconscious comes up with something. I literally have notebooks full of ideas and sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming, so I have to just sit back and focus.
Another thing that inspires me is figs. Whenever I see them, I’ll do a painting of a mouse with a fig. Other times I just run with an idea. I like to put myself in the mouse’s shoes and think of how he’d react to a situation.
What inspired you to feature mice as the primary subject in your paintings?
I was painting dogs about 10 years ago. The idea of mice began because I was always a bit of a slob in the kitchen. So one day I had this still life painting and as a joke, I put a mouse in the painting and told my wife, “This is Chucky… he’s the one who makes the mess, not me.”
Also around this time, I was in a gallery in Provincetown. The gallery owner had a pile of paintings that he was going to keep and the mouse painting was in the pile he’d decided to pass on. Shortly after that a customer came into the gallery and went right to the mouse painting and said, “Oh this is so cute!” So the gallery owner decided to keep it and said to me, “More mice!”
The mouse series was really successful and people really responded to it. I’m very mischievous so the mice paintings are a good vehicle for who I am.
Do you set up a ‘still life’ model of the object the mouse interacts with?
Yes. I had a pet mouse for a lot of years. I used to have three. When I would clean the cages, I would put a carrot in and see how the mouse would interact with it. It was a lot of fun.
You paint your artwork on a smaller scale with many pieces around (5×7) do you prefer to work on a smaller scale due to the precise details of your pieces, the subject matter, or a little of both?
I like to paint real size. If the mouse is three inches I like him to be three inches in the painting. I also paint on a smaller scale because I like my paintings to be more affordable. So, mostly it’s for affordability and because they sell well. I’m working on a landscape and it’s a 9×12 because the mouse is overlooking a larger scene.
Is there a piece that you’ve created that has been the most fun to paint?
They are all fun except when I have a deadline that makes it work. Painting a mouse with a fig is probably my favorite because I love figs and they are sort of mouse-shaped. I like to look for mouse-shaped fruits and veggies when I shop or ones that fit along well with a mouse.
What emotions do you hope people will feel as they view your work?
I want them to feel a sense of innocent fun because I work with a mouse and one object. I hope it will bring people out of their own heads for a moment so they can focus on what it is to discover something. To have a sense of wonder. Viewing a painting can be a very intimate experience and can really quiet the mind.
It’s also easy to grasp what’s going on in my paintings. There’s something that’s just comforting about that fact. He (the mouse) is experiencing what I have experienced on a very small scale and everything is okay. Something even as small as the mouse is important. I also like to get people to laugh.
You have a book titled, The Artists Life what did you enjoy the most about creating this book for those who love your artwork?
That started as a publicity pamphlet and I kept making the pamphlet bigger and bigger… and I had a friend who likes to make books so we collaborated for three months one summer and it turned into a big book. So what started as publicity, turned into a passion project. It was a Summer project that got out of control.
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We love seeing all your new pieces as they come into the Shain Gallery. As a newer artist to the Shain, what do you enjoy most about interacting with Sybil and the team?
I’m very appreciative of it. I think it’s a novel subject for them. They tell me when people come in they really respond to my paintings. Kids love them and so do adults. They really appreciate what I do.