Justin Dunford is putting the finishing touches on a new series of paintings a group of still lifes dotted with stringed instruments, playing cards and ouija boards.
The artist is preparing for his upcoming show Pocket Universe, slated for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 25 at Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter Street, 77007. The group exhibit will also feature artists Lindsay Peyton and Ian Anderson.
Dunford's artwork invites viewers to ponder; his imagery sparks further investigation. And if his paintings seem to hint at an underlying narrative, thats because Dunford is first and foremost a storyteller no matter which medium he decides to use.
While most artists pick one material to explore, Dunford has a more varied repertoire. He draws, paints, prints and sculpts but he also is an actor, director, scenic painter, carpenter, prop builder and puppeteer.
Dunford, a 34-year old Kingwood resident, has known he wanted to be an artist since kindergarten. "Art is just something that I've always done," he said. "It's in my nature."
He doodled and sketched nonstop as a child and he has never stopped.
Dunford started painting seriously in high school, when his grandmother bought him a set of beginner oil paints as a gift. "I had always been intimidated by oil painting before then, but I started to learn," he said. "I tried to figure it out on my own. It was like a lab experiment, instead of having someone over my shoulder telling me what to do. It was a challenge and I enjoyed it."
Dunford's theatre career also began early on. He enrolled in drama as an elective in middle school. "By the time I graduated high school, I decided that it was something I wanted to do professionally," he said.
He studied theatre and minored in art history at the University of Houston, graduating in 2005. "When I was in college, I could never find enough projects to do, so I started venturing out," he said.
He started working with Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre and has since participated in a about 15 shows, building sets, creating puppets, writing and acting.
Dunford also joined forces with classmate Philip Hays to co-produce plays. The duo have acted and directed alongside each other for years. He has worked behind-the-scenes as a set builder and scenic painter for a number of local theatre companies from Mildreds Umbrella to Opera in the Heights. He also served as assistant to the technical theatre department at the Kinkaid School from 2012 to 2014.
Dunford has also taught puppetry, theatre and art workshops for children through Bobbindoctrin and Talento Bilingue de Houston. In 2012, he started Red-Handed Productions is a new production company, specializing in puppet shows, theatre and art events. He plans to continue to expand the company - and to always make new art.
"I don't like to categorize what I do," he said. "I enjoy changing platforms. To me, its all just a means to be heard. Its getting a story to an audience -- thats what I like."
He chooses his medium based on the story he wants to tell. Paintings can be limiting sometimes, he said. Thats why theatre is great. Its a moving painting. And then with puppetry, you dont have to worry about what seems possible on a stage. You get away from those limitations, and youre in complete control of the imagery and movement.
Dunford enjoys pushing himself creatively. "You can always learn more," he said. "I can't stop doing what Im doing. It's what makes me happy."