Kyle Dunn | Conveying a picture of masculine softness and male sensuality by relief painting

Kyle Dunn | Conveying a picture of masculine softness and male sensuality by relief painting


“I think everyone, regardless of gender or appearance, should be free to be as soft or as hard as they like. I personally am a very romantic person and paint men likewise; men aren’t given a space in our culture to be sensual versus sexual, and so I am throwing these images out in the world just hoping it makes more space for people to feel like gender doesn’t have to limit their lives and desires.” — Kyle Dunn

Kyle Dunn, Street Lights, 2020 | Image courtesy of the artist and Sunpride Foundation

Born in 1990 in Livonia, Michigan, United States, Kyle Dunn is known for his sensuous, psychological relief paintings that combine traditional trompe l’oeil and bas-relief techniques to capture moments of heightened intimacy in everyday life. The morphing forms, bodies and interiors of Dunn’s relief paintings are celebrations and meditations that reimagine societal mores of the male body and psyche. His work embraces tragicomedy to explore themes of masculinity, gender roles and expectations, and romantic separation.

Kyle Dunn | Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Magazine

Dunn grew up in Michigan, currently lives and works in Queens, New York. In 2012, he received his BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art, United States. Dunn’s visual language draws inspiration from his own life and from varied sources, including 1970s Italian giallo films, horror and science fiction novels, music videos, theatrical stage lighting, interior design photography and advertisements. Using evocative color and shifting perspectives to invoke emotional states, his elongated figures and their surroundings are enhanced by sculpted additions to the canvases. Dunn creates both a sense of community and lonesome desire in his works, where the stage setting holds as much power as his created cast.

Kyle Dunn, False Start, 2020 | Image courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W. Gallery

Dunn’s Relief Paintings

“Relief paintings” is between sculpture and painting, blurring the line between object and image. Relief sculpture is common in antiquity in Egyptian and Greek culture. With Dunn’s own contemporary colour and imagery, there is a fair amount of trompe l’oeil in the panels which allows Dunn to emphasize areas of the composition with actual physical depth.

Kyle Dunn, Pact, 2021 | Image courtesy of the artist, Galleria Maria Bernheim and P.P.O.W. Gallery

Dunn loves the amount of creative control the panels provide versus painting on flat stretched canvas. “I start with pencil sketches for tonality, and then a color sketch to capture the mood of the figures. Once this is done, I translate the image onto rigid foam and carve along the drawing — from there it’s a back and forth of layering and sanding plaster, fiberglass, and epoxy resin until I have a smooth working surface on which to paint.”


Soft and Vulnerable Male Body in Dunn’s Relief Paintings

Boys have been taught to not express emotion or show vulnerability which is a toxic cycle that stunts emotional growth and self-expression, and translates in adult life into misogyny, violence, and a lot of ignorant chest-thumping.

Kyle Dunn, Lover’s Leap, 2019 | Image courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W. Gallery

“The more firm gender roles are, the greater the risk to those who defy them. And as a gay man in our current moment, I owe so much to every individual in the past who was brave enough to cross that line in the sand. In my paintings I think about men presenting themselves as desirable, as being soft and vulnerable, as a way to show the sky won’t fall if you let your guard down a little.”