Kathleen Dugan was born and raised in Indiana with a brief stay in England when she was 3-5 years of age. She attended Indiana University Bloomington receiving her BA/BFA degree and was awarded Phi Beta Kappa there. From undergrad she went directly to grad school for her MFA at Yale School of Art. Her peer classmates include John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage, Jessica Stockholder, Ann Hamilton and Julie Heffernen. After Yale she moved to New York City and worked at Parsons School of Design in the Admissions office. Her boss at the time was Tim Gunn, the now infamous Project Runway celebrity. Dugan has taught at several colleges and Universities including Parsons, Marian College, Franklin College, and Anderson University. Currently she is tenured at Anderson University. Dugan’s awards include a Lilly Scholars Award, several faculty grants from Anderson University, and a Ford Foundation Grant. Dugan has exhibited work in New York, Toronto, and Germany and has had solos exhibitions in Chicago as a member of the ARC gallery.
Dugan’s work focuses on the disability of autism spectrum disorder. Her portraits of children diagnosed with autism are both an attempt to raise awareness to a broader community, but also her own attempt at “facing “twins diagnosed with autism. Within these paintings she considers the many facets that autism portrays from the DSM-IV list of criteria, the sensory issues these children must cope with and the simple beauty and dignity these children evoke in their struggle to navigate in our social world. . As her daughter Hannah often says to her “People don’t understand how hard it is to have autism, ” Dugan ‘s hope and intent is through her paintings people will begin to see the “face” of autism, i.e. the real person, not just the diagnosis.
Fundamentally to me painting is an emotional, psychological activity-a language to express myself- the sensual perception of the world to me is the most poignant. I respond to images, particularly those that affect both thought and feeling. To me the most profound visual experiences are ones of sorrow, pain, and of loss. Often this pain is manifested in a physical sense-yet this loss can be viewed in a psychological sense as well. Paintings such as The Scream by Edvard Munch and Melancholia by Albrecht Dürer are clear examples of this concept.
The figure, specifically the portrait, has always been a vehicle of personal expression for me. In art school I was encouraged to study the language of painting. Much consideration was given to the formal properties in art…the shaping, the crafting of the form as it relates/defines the content. While I would be painting a portrait of my mom and dad I would be looking at Gorky’s The Artist and his Mother.
Within my recent painting I portray a variety of children diagnosed with autism. My intention is quite literally to visualize what autism looks like, i.e. individualize or “put a face on it”. There are many faces/ facets to the disorder and that is part of the puzzle in defining autism. I take multiple photos of these children, and spend time learning about their particularities.
In studying portraiture, one of my favorite painters has been David Hockney. His portraiture to me is very human and sensitive yet clearly reveals an artist trained within the visual language of painting. I particularly respond to his formal use of color and shaping to express his sentiments about the individual he is painting, usually someone with whom he has an emotional connection.
Recently, I have also been engaged with the painter, Marlene Dumas. Her work documents a world of beauty and pain. Many of her portraits portray individuals who are not the glamorous or beautiful people we are accustomed to seeing on television and in magazines. In NY times, Deborah Solomon writes of Dumas,
“She is part of a generation of figurative painters who find their subjects, as if by default, in photographs ….Still, Dumas manages to put photography to expressionistic ends. It typically shows a face or a figure in dramatic close-up, isolated against a neutral ground. Put another way, the people in her pictures are not sitting in a cafe or strolling the avenue, and they seem to have sprung from some infernal realm where personal memories are constantly colliding with public traumas.”
As a parent of twins diagnosed with autism what has struck me most profoundly are the different manifestations of the disorder. How does one visualize/paint a social disorder that does not often show itself with clear physical attributes? How do these children “face their disability”? Living in a social world with a social deficit these children are “facing” a world that is often times painful, scary, and nonsensical to them. In my work I attempt to exhibit both the beauty and the fear of these children, who must struggle in our world on a daily basis.