Snowfall in Los Angeles; not an impossibility, but unimaginable. Los Angeles’s own residents can attest they’ve seen it, but even those who have experienced it themselves don’t totally believe it to be true. This is the comparison artist Delano Dunn made to his own collision with depression, the subject of his current exhibition “Snowfall in LA,” now up at Montague Contemporary in New York (through October 28, 2021).
“If you had met me out, at coffee,” he explained, “I’m sure you’d think this guy is so cool, he’s mellow, he doesn’t have anything to worry about. I think when this happened to me it was a big shock to people. The thought that Delano would be suffering from depression was an impossibility for most people. That’s why I named the show after something that is virtually impossible.”
Driven by the events of the last two years, Dunn describes “Snowfall in LA” as not directly about Covid but “it’s just about the things that happened to me and the stress, and my depression kicking into full gear during Covid. I really couldn’t start working no matter how hard I tried, the depression just kept building. …It’s about mental health and what people do to find relief from all that pain. It’s very specific to me, it’s not about some general ‘this is what everybody does’ it’s more about the experience I had, and how impossible it was given the person that I am.”
For the series, Dunn found his primary visual inspiration in Classics Illustrated’s adaptation of Uncle Tom. This figure, pulled from the covers of different editions of the story, appears throughout the work. In some, his expression is imperturbable, numbed, checked out. In others, his face is twisted, eyes wide and searching, mid-sprint from something closing in on him from behind.
“I found it fairly interesting that no one who was Black was involved in this. And I was wondering if I could do something with it because the depictions of African Americans are fascinating. So I thought, I like this cover of Uncle Tom in it, and I’m going to make some work about this.”
While reflecting on the figure, Dunn had also been listening to Steely Dan’s “Gaucho,”
Which is this album about the drug-fueled 80s…it started to resonate… And when I think about the summer before, and everything I did in an attempt to find relief, it felt like a road down self-destruction. There were all these things that led up to it, the death of my biological father, his mother passed, then my grandfather passed…and with all these other projects I had due, it all came to a head.
Glitter, sequins, rhinestone stickers, floral sprays, velvety patterned paper come together in the works, signifying the allure of escape through intoxication, the road to annihilation in these desperate attempts to find relief. In many, chaotic brightness is tempered with splashes — some small, some overwhelming — of black shoe polish.
The best example of this push-pull of the futility of escape is in It’s Perfection And Grace, in which the Gold Dust twins appear, scrubbing the protagonist with maniacal glee. His self doubles, fragments, his body internally illuminated here with sequins, there with flowers, but in places desaturated and rendered in ghostly outline. The riotous wallpaper background floods to the edges of the work, but neither the bright patterns nor the twins’ attempt at scrubbing can compete with the insidious shoe polish, flooding across the composition.
The series of 25 pieces came together quickly, in the aftermath of Dunn’s mental health crisis in early summer 2021. Snowfall in LA stands not only as a reflection on self destructive escape, but also as a vision of what can be possible when the flight ends.