Lexington artist Tony Dunn, 57, a quiet, intellectually disabled man known for his abstract, grid-like paintings, died Tuesday.
For years, Dunn painted at Latitude Artist Community, an art studio that focuses on serving people with disabilities.
“His work is exquisite,” said Mollie Rabiner, who until last year worked as community division director at Latitude. “He’s in private collections all over town.”
“Tony Dunn is esteemed for his beautiful and complex, dimensional compositions that are reminiscent of early Mondrian and eccentric grids/maps/city layouts,” an artist’s statement from Latitude said of him. “Dunn’s greatest quality is his versatility. Hand him acrylic paint, graphite, oil pastels, watercolors, ink, polycrylic, china marker, paint pen (ad nauseum) … and he will produce something layered, colorful, and eloquent.”
Dunn’s work was featured in a number of shows, and in 2012 he was the focus of a solo exhibition called “Up Close and Beautiful” at Institute 193. Because of his very poor vision, Dunn worked with his face so close to the paint that he sometimes got smudges on him.
Dunn was under state guardianship for many years.
Though he knew Dunn for at least 15 years, Bruce Burris, who co-founded Latitude and now does similar work in Corvallis, Ore., said he knew little of Dunn’s life outside the art studio.
“There were huge gaps in our understanding of what his background was,” Burris said.
But Rabiner said he leaves behind a community that loved him.
“He has the whole artist community as his family. He is well known,” Rabiner said. “We called him our Buddha,” because he was always happy.
Dunn was methodical in his work and known for being extremely quiet.
“If he ever ran out of paint is when we would hear from him,” Rabiner said.
Dunn’s nephew James Buckner said Dunn was adopted at 12 days old by James E. and Mildred Dunn.
He attended the Bluegrass School on Price Road.
Dunn lived with his mother until she died in 1981. Dunn’s sister, Margie Buckner, saw to his care until 1997, when she died, and he moved to a group home, James Buckner said.
He most recently lived with Mary Harris, a family home provider, Rabiner and Buckner said.
In addition to his work at Latitude, Rabiner said he also participated in the Expressive Program at Employment Solutions.
Funeral arrangements are pending at Milward Funeral Directors.