Living in Forms: Bill Dunlap at Lincoln Arts Project Boston

In his home state of Maryland, Bill Dunlap entered a design project to create murals on the sides of barns. He entered some wild and crazy sketches--perhaps they were sexually or religiously offensive, or perhaps they were simply a study of the human form or haloed flesh-toned shadows--and the rural, hardworking people of Maryland took one look and said, "Not on my barn."

So Bill went back to the drawing board. Or perhaps, the quilting board. Bill presented the same Marylanders with sketches of quilt like patterns and they could not get enough; what could say 'charming' more than a quilt mural on the side of a barn in the Maryland countryside?

This study (and I do mean study) in quilt patterns gave way to several fantastic geometrical pieces in Bill's exhibit at the Lincoln Arts Project gallery in Boston. Rich, autumnal colors appear everywhere. In one painting, the focus is the traditional eight-pointed star, which Bill was able to research back to the Egyptian/Mesopotamian eras. The star breaks into 16 points, and as the theory goes, the X-axis is time, and the Y-axis is something akin to life (positive, or north) and death (negative, or south). Following the lines of each shape from the center--where human beings are said to reside--one is forced into a diagonal, or a horizontal move that becomes vertical, or a vertical move that becomes horizontal. Trace it with your fingers; it's cool. Horizontal movement representing order, and vertical movement representing chaos. So, in short, in this complex and undaunting shape we can see the trajectory of life: from order comes chaos, from chaos comes order, and sometimes we're just on a shit slope to God knows what. Bill's pieces are inundated with subtle, clever messages such as these, for those who realize it.

But what's beautiful here is that Bill then brought this ordered chaos to his other, more curvilinear works. Those aforementioned crazy sketches. When he's not working with prints, his objects appear to be the human form on a black, painted background. They truly pop a little bit more this way than the traditional white, which he implied would look a little "unfinished." Even if you're not a fan of pattern work, these works are enough to get you out to go see his exhibition.

There is one painting in particular, a nude woman featured off-center on the hand-painted black background with the other side of the painting featuring a sharp red line down its edge. Something about its off-kilterness really won me over. She and the red stripe were a frame for the darkness, instead of the other way around.

The largest and most prominent painting that demonstrates this style is of a man's face, painted within squares. Six squares by six squares, each an abstract painting onto themselves. And then these are sidled up to three other canvases to create a painting of tiles with curves that are unapologetic about their lack of order. This creates the visage of a human being. Order. Chaos. Chaos. Order.

If you're looking to go to an art exhibit by a man who understands the way the world works, check out Bill Dunlap's work at the Lincoln Arts Project in Waltham, the Bostonian suburb that is clearly not a suburb. The gallery space is located at 289 Moody Street, a four minute walk from the commuter rail and accessible by the 70 bus that leaves from Central in Cambridge.

It's rare for a true Bostonian to cross the river, let alone travel west of the Allston/Brighton town line, but the Lincoln Arts Project is enough of an intimate, hidden gem to do it. The opening reception is this Friday, February 22, from 7pm to 10pm, and the closing reception is March 30, from 7pm to 10pm, which is running simultaneously for Bill Dunlap's "Paint Job" exhibit and Courtney McKenna & Mallory April Biggins' "Hush" exhibit, located in the Lincoln Arts Project's basement. You'd be surprised at how much these completely different artists compliment each other.

And at how their order and chaos intertwine.