When Canadian artist Fiona Dunnett adopted Oaxaca, Mexico as her home after graduating with a B.A. in Fine Arts — with honours — from the University of Victoria, she immersed herself in the cultural, social and political environment of Mexico.
She is back in Canada, but her six years of living in Mexico is reflected in her art work, which portrays graffiti-like images of death surrounded by a collage of comic strips.
Dunnett works in large scale and in three dimensions, using techniques and genres like collage, mixed media, photography and pop art.
Her multi media work will be exhibited at the MacMillan Arts Centre (MAC) in Parksville January 31 to February 25.
Mexican pop culture and its worship of death which is portrayed very graphically in the Mexican tabloids with gruesome news stories and photos of mutilated corpses provides some of the inspiration for Dunnett’s art work.
The Ottawa-born artist moved to Oaxaca in 2005 and the culture of the southern Mexican city became a rich source of stimulation for her work. Combining the photographs of violent deaths in the Mexican newspapers with a collage of comic strips, her graffiti like paintings in acrylic also contain elements of the natural world.
Dunnett’s canvases get their natural colour from dyes she made out of crushed insects and flowers. She used the cochineal, a beetle like parasite that lives on cacti from which the dye carmine is derived to make a bright red dye and she used Marigold flowers to make a yellow dye. Dunnett said she attended a workshop in the community to learn about the use of natural dyes which are derived from local plants and insects.
“For quite some time I’d been thinking about using natural dyes in my work and then I had the opportunity to learn about their use from an expert.”
Dunnett also participated in more traditional hands-on seminars, at the Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca and at other art institutes in the city.
She credits two local graffiti stencil art groups with providing her with additional inspiration.
The portraits of death combined with the comic imagery isn’t subtle and Dunnett admitted that while some people may find her paintings dark, it isn’t her intention to evoke feelings of horror.
“In Mexico they treat death in a different way … and I like to work with ideas of death and mortality,” she said.
Dunnett’s artistic talent has been influenced by more than Mexican culture. When she was five years old, her family travelled to Bangladesh because her mother was a diplomat for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). After three years she returned to Ottawa, and then her family spent three years in Zimbabwe.
Dunnett said she puts her own personality and life experiences into her work and she hopes the images come across as thought provoking rather than troublesome.
Her art show at the MAC includes an opening reception Friday, Feb. 3 from 7 to 9 p.m. where the public is invited to meet the artist.