David Dupree’s bold, colorful, stylized landscapes are hard to categorize. The patterns and textures are too dominant to be pointillism or even impressionism; the colorful palette, too literal for expressionism or fauvism and too sensible for outsider art; and the aesthetic choices are too sophisticated for folk art. The artist doesn’t categorize them either, saying only, “I guess my paintings are autobiographical memories and part fantasy. I’m hoping to express those narratives in a thought-provoking image that the viewers might want to take home with them.”
David is essentially a self-taught artist, except for an art history course and monitored life-drawing class he took in college. When he was about seven, his parents moved back east from a cattle ranch and mining towns out west. The family settled in Coventry, Rhode Island. He has since traveled the county as an adult in a wide variety of jobs that provided inspiration for his paintings. He feels lucky to have seen so many galleries and museums along the way, but “the first illustrations that came to my attention were in the front window of the Rexall drug store in Leadville, Colorado, of Budweiser beer cases featuring copies of Custer’s Last Stand.”
David started painting seriously in 1973 during his last year at Rhode Island College, where he majored in history and philosophy. For the first few years, he “played with surrealism,” using acrylics and canvas he got from the textile mills where he worked at night during college. For stretchers, he used old screen frames and abandoned screen doors. After college, he worked at house painting, picked apples, worked on bridge construction in Tampa, Florida, and as a ranch hand in Wyoming. He worked at various jobs in the oil fields of Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado. He was a mechanic at a fish processing plant in Rhode Island and cut shake bolts in the woods of the Olympic Peninsula. In Odessa, Texas, he switched from acrylics to oils and store-bought stretchers. He says, “All of these places and traveling to and from them have given me much spirit food from which to create paintings and drawings.”
“On Christmas Eve in 1984, I left Las Vegas for Maine,” he says, “with just my clothes, a tent, and sleeping bag. For my first six months, I lived in my tent until my mother, father, and brother convinced me to rent a cabin on Thomas Pond in South Casco.” When he moved into an apartment in Portland, he began submitting paintings to galleries there instead of giving them away as he had in his early years. At a poetry reading, he met his wife, Gerda, moved to Bridgton, and bought a house in North Waterford, which he considers the foothills and likens to the mountains of his early childhood in Colorado. “Mountains and ocean waves soothe me, he says.”
After serving as artistic director at a mental health club, David was a counselor and care worker at a mental health crisis unit for nearly twenty years. His 65-mile daily commute and full-time job left little time for painting or promoting his work, but the drive-time sunrises and sunsets inspired it.
David may seem a well-kept secret, but he has been showing his work in Maine galleries since 1989: including June Fitzpatrick, Maine Coast Artists, and The Cry of the Loon Gallery. David is now happily part of Studio 53 Fine Art Gallery in Boothbay Harbor, where he had a solo exhibit in 2018.
In 2011, David was diagnosed with larynx cancer and considered it “a kind of wake-up call. I needed to focus better and give more attention to developing my art,” he decided. He has been cancer-free for over six years now and has had significant back surgery, but “I don’t wish to let these involuntary afflictions define me,” he says. He feels fortunate to be an artist and is determined not to let distractions keep him from painting and drawing. “No matter what goes on in the world and no matter what health challenges, I choose to continue to create”—work he hopes people will find “enjoyable, stimulating, and memorable.”
“These days,” David says, “I am really filled up by looking at all the artists’ work at Studio 53. Historically, I am really grabbed by the work of George Seurat, Hieronymus Bosch, and Vincent van Gogh. No matter one’s educational background, if you are drawn to creative endeavors, you refine your expertise. In that sense, I think we are all self-trained.”
Image at top: David Dupree, Hell’s Half Acre, oil, 36 x 34 in., 2005.