William Dunlap was raised in Webster County and earned a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College in 1967 and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Mississippi two years later. He taught at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University from 1970 to 1979 and at Memphis State University in Tennessee in 1979–80. He subsequently moved to the Washington, D.C., area, and now maintains studios in Mathiston, Mississippi; McLean, Virginia; and Coral Gables, Florida. His subject matter covers landscape, history, and memory, and in addition to working with traditional materials, he borrows from photography and from the Old Masters, incorporates found objects, and makes reference to art history and criticism. To understand his work, he says, “Read the Bible. Genesis and the Book of Revelation might hold a clue.” It also helps to know something about art history, southern history and literature, and the American landscape tradition. Dunlap evokes all of these in his oeuvre, which he sometimes terms “hypothetical realism.”
Dunlap’s work is varied—coral-tinged Delta sunsets; large, found-object constructions with punning, postmodern titles (often incorporating paintings); a fourteen-canvas 112-foot cyclorama created for the rotunda of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., that depicts the Shenandoah Valley in the summer and Antietam battlefield in the winter. He also has worked on a serial portrait of Gore Vidal in both clay and bronze. Though his many works might not look as if they all came from the hand of one artist, viewers with an eye for detail will be able to spot continuity. Despite varying techniques, themes emerge: the body of a modern-day St. Sebastian, Sergeant Wylliams, on the verge of returning to the earth; Dunlap’s favorite hunting dog, a Walker hound; Rembrandt and his son, Titus; blooming irises; arrows and arrowheads (both death-dealing instruments and enduring reminders of people long gone); the changing of seasons and the cycles of the earth.
Dunlap also wants to demystify the art-making process and the idea of the pristine art object: grids, splatters, and drips remain on his paintings as records of the work’s creation; old snakeskins in various stages of decay appear in several works; and found objects as prosaic as an old mailbox become cornerstones of assemblages. His body of work has an immediate visual impact but also bears closer scrutiny and considered meditation.
Dunlap has lived outside of Mississippi for many years but has always maintained ties to his home place. He frequently returns to Mathiston, remains involved as a University of Mississippi alumnus, and continues to exhibit in Laurel, Jackson, and Oxford. He received the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1991 and served as master of ceremonies of the awards gala for several years. He is a three-time winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters awards. Dunlap’s work can be found in major national museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, in prominent galleries around the country, and in all of Mississippi’s major museums, including the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and the Museums of the University of Mississippi. In addition to his work as an artist, Dunlap occasionally works as an art critic and commentator and is a renowned raconteur. In 2016 he published his first fiction, a series of stories entitled Short Mean Fiction.
- Ruth Stevens Appelhof, William Dunlap: Re-Constructed Re-Collections Exhibition Catalog, Art Museum of Western Virginia (1992)
- William Dunlap, Dunlap (2006)
- William Dunlap website, www.williamdunlap.com
- Mary Lynn Kotz, Museum and Arts Washington (March–April 1989)
- Barbara Rose, In the Spirit of the Land Exhibition Catalog, Corcoran Gallery of Art (1995)