On Friday, January 24, 13FOREST Gallery will open The Great Season, an exhibition of new and recent acrylic work by painter Nicole Duennebier. Dark and sumptuous, The Great Season highlights a fantastical six-panel painting that associates the random beauty of nature with an elaborate 19th-century parlor game. 

Set against black backgrounds, Duennebier’s complex forms strongly refer to Baroque still-life paintings in which fruits and vegetables simultaneously emerge and pass into different stages of maturity. A key difference in Duennebier’s work is that, rather than render images of everyday objects, she bases them on her fascination with biology, particularly bacteria, fungi and other objects hidden from view. Referring to her use of darkness, the artist states that her inky backgrounds are “like a primordial soup, a pool of black that springs forth a decadent and sometimes horrible growth.” 

Each of the paintings in the show is associated with lush proliferation. InBright Beast After Nature, for instance, a black background gives rise to a nebula of unfolding, biomorphic forms that seem to divide and overtake one another. Painted in thin, translucent layers, the work suggests a still life captured in only one of many stages it will eventually pass through. With Bright Beast Dissected View Duennebier gives an equally fantastic image of the engine behind such proliferation. Similar to vivisections seen in science textbooks, the painting shows the surface of a soft, woolly plant and the interior, biological source of its existence. In content the “engine” plays with the idea of a still life, but one made of flowers, vegetables and animal viscera. 

Duennebier’s centerpiece in The Great Season is a vast, six-panel painting titled, Hydnellum Myriorama. Its title refers to a type of fungus found in nature and to a Victorian card game – myriorama – in which children could arrange a series of illustrated cards to form hundreds of different landscapes. In Duennebier’s six panels are hybrid images that resemble Baroque still lifes, coral, fur, crystals and close-ups of microscopic fauna. Each of the forms emerges from nothing and stands bathed in a common light source. Despite the panels’ differing environments, Duennebier negates their importance by enabling viewers to arrange the panels into aesthetic experiences of their own choice. With Hydenellum Myriorama, the random potential of generation and decline in nature is given its parallel in art. 

Of her own work Duennebier states: “My interests in natural phenomenon (dermoid cysts, fungus, invasive flora/fauna) and my love of candied Old Master opulence always seem to be present in my painting… Painting with attention to detail, I’ve become accustomed to the fact that nature in itself, or anything living really, never totally allows you to have a perfectly idealized experience. Everything is always spewing, dripping, rotting a little.” 

About the Artists

Nicole Duennebier was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983. She received her Bachelor in Fine Arts at Maine College of Art with a major in painting. Her BFA thesis work was most influenced by research about the coastal ecosystems of Maine. In 2006, she was awarded the Monhegan Island Artists Residency. On the island she continued her work with sea life. Duennebier saw a natural connection between the darkness and intricacy of undersea regions and the aesthetic of 16th century Dutch still-life painting. In 2008 she moved to Boston. 

Her work is in the permanent collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art and was featured in Amanda Palmer’s The Grand Theft Art Companion. Cate McQuaid of the Boston Globe called Bright Beast, her 2013 solo show at the Lilypad in Cambridge, “gorgeous and creepy” and said Duennebier’s “technical mastery gives the artist what she needs to seduce the viewer; the content lowers the boom.”

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Duennebier's interview with 13FOREST owner, Jim Kiely, on the gallery blog, Into the Light: An Interview with Nicole Duennebier.

Local art writer Alexis Avedisian's review, Hell Underwater, is now posted on her blog V-e-l-l-u-m.com.

Watch Nicole Duennebier and Marc Gurton, gallery owner, on Arlington Community Television here.

Duennebier's paintings featured in the art blog,Booooooom.

Paintings from The Great Season and Duennebier's artist statment featured in art blog, Temporary Land Bridge.