After George Dunbar had exhibited his artwork in New York, where he had earned a certain reputation for his Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist canvases, he returned in 1955 to his native Louisiana. He quickly founded, with a group of like-minded artists, what would soon become the influential Orleans Gallery in New Orleans. In their small space on Royal Street in the French Quarter, Dunbar helped establish a venue for abstract art in a city suffused with antiques dealers.
While the Orleans Gallery was community-oriented, it was decidedly non-regional in its aims. Dunbar and his colleagues sought to promote contemporary art in New Orleans, while also increasing awareness of the city as a center of artistic innovation. “I felt it was one of the most significant things that happened in New Orleans,” says the still-working 96-year-old Dunbar from his home on the banks of Bayou Bonfouca. “Significant from the standpoint of taking contemporary art and moving it here, ahead of other cities of our size in the country—and particularly in the South.”
In the late 1950s, to supplement his income while teaching art classes, Dunbar worked as a land developer on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, across from New Orleans. Carving out streets and canals near his home in Slidell, he developed a unique understanding of the region’s alluvial plains, estuaries, and bayous. Although Dunbar has never painted these landscapes explicitly, his attunement to the region’s natural ecosystems infuses his approach to form, material, and composition in his art. When creating his pieces, Dunbar responds to the tactile qualities of his media, creating topographies and evoking abstracted natural forms.
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WRITTEN BY ELLIOT GORDON MERCER
This story appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of MILIEU.