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Thought-Provoking Photographs by Five-Eight’s Sean Dunn at UNG

Peter Alvanos, Sean Dunn and Ruth Allen at Dunn's opening reception.

Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Peter Alvanos, Sean Dunn and Ruth Allen at Dunn’s opening reception.

Visual artists have it tough in this town. Musicians get all the glory (not to mention the girls, drinks and swag).  So some might be inclined to have doubts when a member of one of the most esteemed bands in Athens starts acting like he’s an artist, too. Oh, really

Ditch the doubts, forgive him for being doubly talented and go see guitarist Sean Dunn’s show at the University of North Georgia’s Watkinsville campus before it closes on Thursday, Nov. 5. His photographs are pretty—and powerful.

When You Cut Into the Present (the future pours out), Dunn’s first solo show, is a group of large-scale photographs, most of which were taken by the artist while on the road with his band Five-Eight. 

Dunn began to seriously study photography on his own about five years ago. According to Cheryl Juska, Dunn’s wife, “The availability of digital photography, including his iPhone cameras, and social media (i.e., Facebook and later Instagram) spurred his interest into a daily exercise, wherein he began to develop “his voice” (as he likes to say). Once we moved back to Athens, with the encouragement of Bob and Claire Clements, he gained confidence to begin submitting to juried shows.”

It was a juried show at UNG of works by OCAF members that led to the current exhibit. At that show, Dunn was awarded the solo show prize by the juror, well-known Atlanta gallerist and artist Robert Matre. 


Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Marc Pilvinsky and friends at the opening for Sean Dunn.

Dunn finds that he does some of his best work when he is touring with the band. “It helps me to be somewhere new. You become hyper-aware.” The artist went on to compare his sensitivity in a new environment to “your lizard brain at the watering hole, taking it all in. You know, when you’re at a new watering hole…” 

These new places include a cathedral in St. Louis and a very old drug store in New Orleans. 

The artist’s enhanced awareness in strange places results in photographs that are oddly evocative and sometimes poignant. Many of the photographs have a visual softness, a prettiness, that pulls you in. Once they’ve got you, subtle details will elicit surprise or thought. Some linger in the mind, revisiting you at a later time.

“Curtain, 2015” does that. From a distance, it’s just a bold composition, a photograph of a neat old triangular building similar to New York’s Flatiron Building (the photo was taken in Chicago). But as you look closer, you see it: the curtain that is barely pulled open on one side. Dunn’s vision takes something ordinary and imbues it with weight. A simple open curtain could mean something terrible, or something tender. Hours after looking at the picture, maybe you are having a great time at a Jonathan Richman concert, but suddenly you see the open curtain again in your mind and you find yourself wondering about it. Who opened it that way? Why?

Hats off to UNG’s Beth Sale and Jim Wilson for the thoughtful display of the work. The corner of the triangular building in “Curtain” playfully points toward the corner of the triangular mixed-use gallery space at UNG. 

Sale is the UNG gallery director and oversees exhibits at all of the school’s campuses, which are also in Dahlonega, Gainesville and Cumming. “I feel like we have really exciting shows,” Sale said at the recent reception for Dunn. “In Gainesville right now we have a woman from Taiwan who does large scale drawings of belly buttons in graphite.”

Go see Dunn’s photographs before the exhibit comes down. Meanwhile, this Monday I’ll be driving to Gainesville to go see those bellybuttons.

When You Cut Into the Present (the future pours out): Photographs by Sean Dunn will be on view through Thursday, Nov. 5 at UNG Oconee Campus Gallery, 1201 Bishop Farms Pkwy, Watkinsville. For more information go to