Nov 16, 2020

Blue Line Arts Unveils Evocative New Paintings by Michael Dunlavey This Weekend

Roseville Gallery’s offerings can be previewed (and even bought) online

By Ed Goldman

I first met Michael Dunlavey a little more than 34 years ago. His new one-man show of richly textural paintings—of everything from wave-beaten old boats to proudly resistant barns and Native American rugs—opens Friday at Blue Line Arts in Roseville, California (with a reception the next day from 4-7 p.m.).

And yes, the show will go on. The gallery is a retail operation and will be keeping its regular hours of Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. It will be closed on Thanksgiving and the next day). Also, before we go much further, if you’re one of The Goldman State readers in places other than the Golden State, rest assured you can view Dunlavey’s show and buy something you like by going here.

Michael Dunlavey in Santa Fe, by Lindy Dunlavey

Now, then. The reason I know for certain when Dunlavey and I met is because it was right before my daughter Jessica was born on March 30, 1986. Anticipating major noise and cuddling disruptions, I figured I might need to start working outside my home—and Dunlavey, whose airy, two-story graphic-design studio was a 10-minute walk from my home, had an office for rent.

As it turned out, I couldn’t tear myself away from the house once Jessica debuted. Even so, not terribly long thereafter, Dunlavey and I began to work together on a variety of marketing projects and formed a warm, giggle-filled friendship that flourishes to this day. 

But its foundation wasn’t built entirely on laughter. In 1998, Michael and I were scheduled to give a presentation to a developer two hours from Sacramento. The day before, Jane, my wife of 20 years at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. I didn’t want to leave her side but she insisted I go, saying the time spent with a friend would distract me. 

It did and it didn’t. On the two-hour drives to and from our meeting, I was an emotional wreck; but Michael was the voice of reason, gentle humor and surprisingly welcome allusions to God. By the time I walked back in my house much, much later, Jane and I embraced and silently vowed to face the future together. She lived for nine years and our love never wavered.

Waiting Out The Storm

Neither did my regard and love for Dunlavey. This is why my phone interview with him for today’s column was twice as long as I’d estimated it would last. We have some history but we also always have too much gossip to share and wisecracks and puns with which to top each other. 

All of that aside, let me tell you why I’ve asked you here today.

Vern’s Truck

Now a depressingly bouncy 76, Dunlavey returned to what he calls his first love, painting, 11 years after he and his fellow designer, business partner and wife of (now) 50 years, Lindy, closed their eponymous, highly successful, multiple award-winning design studio. 

For the 47 years Lindy and Michael owned the business, they endured a daily 45-minute-each-way commute from their elegantly rustic and eccentric home in Rocklin, for which Michael designed more decks than you’ll find in an armada, to their workplace in east Sacramento. 

Michael says he’s created about 200 paintings since retiring. If you know anything about using watercolor, perhaps the most unforgiving painting medium, you may appreciate how prolific that number is. “I learned a lot about shortcuts as a designer,” Dunlavey says, “mainly by masking certain areas of a piece in progress so that I never needed to stop painting to prevent colors from running into each other.”

Most of the paintings for this show—all of which were elegantly framed by Skyline Gallery in Rocklin —are horizontal (about 22” high x 30” across) and all reflect his love “of old things.”

Looking for a Great Gift?

Because he developed such a stellar rep as a graphic designer, many of his fans don’t know that Dunlavey was painting long before he became an artist/businessman.

“When I was in college,” he says, “I’d had 11 one-man shows by the time I was 22.” His work at a small gallery in Gold Hill, Nevada, attracted the eye of a curator at the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco, who offered the young painter a show. “But I was already in the Navy,” Dunlavey recalled—where he’d spend three years and see action in the Gulf of Tonkin—“so he sent me a letter asking me to see him when I got out.”

But by then, Dunlavey had other ideas “and kind of forgot.” He married Lindy and the two went off on their own tour of duty, crisscrossing much of the world. In the years that followed, the couple has traveled extensively; Dunlavey’s paintings are frequently based on his travel photos.

Dunlavey never turned his back on the community that nourished him. Among other commitments, he was on the board of directors of the Crocker Art Museum Association for 11 years and the board of the Sacramento Region Community Foundation for a decade. In addition to guest lecturing and mentoring young designers and artists, he’s quietly taken care of members of his related and extended families.

I mention all of this and the anecdote about my late wife because I think it demonstrates something that comes through in his artwork. There’s a patina that comes of age and experience and a luminosity that comes with character. They show up in the paintings of Michael Dunlavey because they’ve always been present in him.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).