Loretta Dunkelman


Dates of Membership:



"My work involves a painstaking process of applying one layer of colored wax over another until it is built up to a hard, smooth wax surface. The surface appears fragile and vulnerable, like a patina of soft rain or lines from the clouds, but at the same time it is tough and hard. The grid is used in all of the work as a structure within which the layers are ordered; it interacts with the surface as the modulated and veiled colors act upon it, dissolving and reappearing encrusted with the layered wax." 


Loretta Dunkelman was born in 1937 in Patterson, New Jersey. She received a Bachelors in Art from Douglass College, the woman's college of Rutgers University in 1958 and a Masters in Art from Hunter College in 1966. 

While a student in the late 1950s she became interested in the architecture of Frank Loyd Wright and the philosopher lao Tzu's ideas about space in architecture shared by Wright. They believed that the most alive space is one that is the opposite  of a filled space; that the void or negative space is more alive because it is capable of being filled. Through that insight the concept of the void became a meaningful component of her work as it developed in the 1960s. Beginning in 1965 she produced a group of early minimalist paintings that featured an asymmetrical format with a layered monochromatic or two-color painted surface.

In 1970 while on the island of Ios in Greece she made a group of color studies inspired by the sky. The Greek sky became a major influence for the work that followed. It was the source for the repetitive sky image in Ice-Sky, the first in a series of large-scale works on paper that she produced in the 70s. Ice-Sky was one of the earliest examples in the contemporary movement of major art works made with drawing technique and materials, and was exhibited in the 1973 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum. Geometry and surface created through a process of layering with caran d'ache oil-wax chalk on paper were key elements in the work of this period; the paintings moved from a repetitive grid image to a serial image. The focus was on surface, line and proportion - the relationship between the void and the line, the fragment, and the implied whole. 

In the Flesh Series oil paintings of the 1990's, the translucent surface reminiscent of viscera, has an unusual beauty while also evoking images of stripped flesh and sensations of pain and vulnerability. With her most recent work, a series of blue paintings, she continues to create layered surfaces in which the physicality of the paint is transformed by color and light to reveal the vulnerability of the human condition as well as to express hope, beauty and joy of life itself. 

An active member of A.I.R. until 1987, Dunkelman had six solo shows with the gallery. She was involved in many projects that promoted the work of other women artists. In particular, she felt it was important to present the work of women in its historical context. In 1983 she wrote a grant for an historical exhibition of women artists, 7 American Women: The Depression Decade, that the National Endowment and New York State Council on the Arts funded. She also initiated an Emerging Artist and Underexposed Artist program for the gallery. 

Her contributions to the women’s art movement would not stop with A.I.R. however, as she also became a member of the Ad Hoc Committee of Women’s artists, and helped organize Thirteen Women Artists, one of the first major exhibitions of women artists in the United States. Dunkelman has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Association of University Women, as well as a grant from the Gottlieb Foundation.

She currently lives and works in New York.

Photo Credit: Judy Cooper

Photo Credit: Judy Cooper

Where to Find Her Work:

Accola Griefen Fine Art, NY

Bellevue Medical Center, NY

Bristol-Myers, Squibb, Lawrence, KS

Chase Manhattan Bank, NY

City University Graduate Center, NY

The Picker Art Gallery, Dana Art Center, Colgate University, NY

Spencer Art Museum, KS

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

University of Cincinnati, OH