To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Whimsical mouse paintings and more: an interview with Stuart Dunkel

 Like many people, I often find myself frequenting the Instagram Explore page, well, exploring. On one such occasion, I came across the sweetest post of an oil painting. The subject? A mouse. I was absolutely delighted to discover that the artist, Stuart Dunkel (@stuartdunkel on Instagram), focuses entirely on paintings of mice interacting with different objects. After following his work on Instagram for a while, I knew that I had to reach out to speak with him, to learn more about his art and the mice within his pieces.

            Born in 1952 in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, artist Stuart Dunkel is now located in Massachusetts. His artistic background lies both in playing the oboe and painting. He has performed in multiple orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He has also taught at Boston University, the Longy Music School, The New England Conservatory of Music, and the Boston Conservatory of Music.

            What drew me into Dunkel’s works is the continued appearance of the same mouse, exploring different aspects of the world, one piece of food or object at a time. Take “Lime X-Ray.” In it, a mouse stands tall behind a slice of lime. The backlit image reveals the shape of the mouse behind the citrus slice. It is perfect. In “Fry Master,” a mouse happily sits within a carton of fries, holding one up with its little paws. The realism of both mouse and french fries is comical yet endearing. It is almost as if, in seeing the painting, I have stumbled upon the mouse, caught happily in the act of french fry pilfering. Paintings “Oreo Collectorand “Two Kisses” both see mice carrying quantities of cookies and candy (Oreos and Hershey’s Kisses respectively). The mice appear to share the same emotions we were to have had we happened upon a stash of candy—pure excitement.

Dunkel’s work has such a warmth and kindness—perhaps owing to the paintings’ warm colors and the sweet little mice. To me, the work fosters immense feelings of whimsy and contentment and happiness. Each painting’s subject is treated with such respect. It is realism imbued with playfulness. At the end of the day, all I can really say is that I enjoy the mouse paintings. So much! And I am so happy to be able to share these fantastic, gently humorous works with readers of The Brandeis Hoot. It was an honor to ask him some questions about himself, his art, and his artistic process. 


(Interview questions and responses have been edited for clarity.)


Jamie: What did you major/minor in during university? 


Dunkel: I went to Boston University and majored in music where I played the oboe. 


Jamie: When did you start painting?


Dunkel: I was a professional musician for 30 years. I started painting when I retired from performing in 2002.  


Jamie: What’s your inspiration for your art?


Dunkel: I painted animals and the galleries I was in requested I paint a mouse series which became very popular, and I decided to have fun with the ideas I had and include the mouse, named Chuckie, in all my work. 


(Post-interview comment: Chuckie!)


Jamie: Why mice?


Dunkel: I love animals and it was a perfect fit for my subject matter as a painter. The mouse became my muse as it is the smallest and most vulnerable of all animals and reflected the same issues humans have to deal with. These issues take a big part in the narratives in my work.


Jamie: As an oboist, do you have a favorite piece to play? Does it differ from your favorite piece to listen to?


Dunkel: I often listen to impressionist composers like Debussy and Ravel and when I practice, I like to play Bach and Mozart.  


Jamie: Do you have any pets? (And if so, are they mice?)


Dunkel: I have three white mice as pets along with my golden retriever, Kiki.    


(Post interview comment: In a 2017 interview with LancasterOnline, Dunkel says “when I’m cleaning [the mice’s] cage, I put different props in” and watch their reaction and “try to figure what they’re feeling.”) 


Jamie: You always paint the mice next to such delightful objects: Oreos, french fries, and cupcakes, to name a few. How do you decide what to paint the mice with?


Dunkel: I often combine the mouse with things I eat and objects I think are of interest, no matter how weird they are.


Jamie: What current projects are you working on?


Dunkel: I show my work in a local gallery in Natick, the Renjeau gallery, and also galleries in NYC, California, and Cape Cod. Currently, I am sending work to my eight galleries and planning a large solo show in October at the REHS gallery in NYC.


You can see more of Stuart Dunkel’s work and upcoming show schedule at his website.

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