BOZEMAN, MT—Awed by her boundless imagination and dazzling technique, Tony Eisen declared the artwork of friend and Montana State University art student Heather Dunne "totally amazing" Monday.
"Heather's stuff is completely mind-blowing," said Eisen, who saw Dunne's latest acrylic painting, Patiently Hysterical, while returning a borrowed CD to her apartment Sunday afternoon. "I've never seen anything like it. It's like she's got this whole universe of her own in her head, and it comes out in her work."
Eisen, who said Dunne's work deals primarily with "themes of madness and altered consciousness and all this other totally out-there stuff," met the artist in September 1997 in a poetry class. Less than a month later, Eisen was invited to Dunne's apartment to view an extensive collection of the then-sophomore's acrylic paintings, magazine-clipping collages, and what Dunne calls "recovered-object pieces."
"Heather took this one '70s portable TV that somebody threw away, and right on the screen, she painted a war scene with tanks and soldiers," Eisen said. "It was this really deep statement about the media and war and, like, how the government's priorities in this country are all fucked-up, and we just watch it all on TV."
"That's what's so incredible about Heather's work: It really makes you think," Eisen said. "She'll take an everyday object and make you see it in a totally new and different way."
Dunne first began nurturing her talent at Billings (MT) High School, where she quickly rose through the ranks to become Art Club president. Over the course of her four years at Montana State, that talent has blossomed, with Dunne developing what her instructors call "a unique individual style."
"The first time I saw Heather's paintings, I was like, 'Whoa, this stuff is really good,'" Eisen said. "The use of color in her paintings is amazing. It's just really dynamic and multi-spatial. I mean, it's like everything on her canvas is totally three-dimensional."
"Her art makes you question everything around you," Eisen continued. "Take, for example, her sculpture Two Straitjacketed Messiahs. Who's to say it's insane people who are truly insane? Maybe it's the sane people who are insane, and the insane people are actually the ones who see things the way they really are?"
Eisen, who has seen "tons" of other Montana State students' artwork, said he has never seen anything quite like Dunne's. Eisen also visited the Museum of Modern Art during a 1996 trip to New York and believes that Dunne's work "would fit right in."
Eisen is such a great fan of Dunne's work, he said that as soon as he can save some extra money from his campus-library job, he plans to purchase one of her pieces.
"I don't know if she would ever consider selling it, but I would love to buy Self Reflection," Eisen said of Dunne's Sculpture & Collage 220 final project, a glass-shard-covered mannequin. "That piece is incredible."
"If you think about it, it's a good investment, because she's going places," Eisen said. "Heather's going to be famous someday, I swear."
Dunne's talent has not gone unnoticed in the Montana State Art Department, either. Her wood, string and papîer maché sculpture, Lifeless Marionette, was awarded a $100 prize at the annual Spring Student Exhibit in April 1998.
"Heather is a very good student, and she deserves high praise," said Janet Alvy, Dunne's Figure Drawing 301 instructor. "She regularly attends class and never misses an assignment deadline."
Dunne is one of 255 Montana State seniors expected to graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in art, placing her among a select group of 48,000 students who will receive art degrees from colleges and universities across the nation. She plans to continue to study art in graduate school in the fall.