Born in Webster County, Mississippi, William Ralph Dunlap has spent the better part of his life in the South. After graduating from Mississippi College with a degree in art, he went on to receive a master of fine arts from the University of Mississippi in 1969. Having lived in several Southern locales outside his home state, including North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia, Dunlap closely identifies with his regional roots: “The South is my legacy—the feeling for kinfolk, for storytelling, for customs and manners, juxtaposed with the polarities of social order and races—all set in that lush breathtaking countryside.”
The Southern countryside is a constant source of inspiration for Dunlap’s art. His paintings are primarily devoted to landscape themes that are fused with varied imagery. Animals (particularly dogs and birds), flowers, and still-life elements are often superimposed in a way that suggests narrative, as in Water Side—Iris Watch, a work from 2004. While Dunlap’s works appear to depict literal and familiar places, they are actually images synthesized in his mind’s eye, composites drawn from his life experiences.
As evidenced in this example, Dunlap often combines media, using aspects of painting, sculpture and assemblage. With a carefully refined painting technique and rich palette, Dunlap juxtaposes the intricate botanical forms of purple irises against the dark foreground of a Lowcountry waterway with sun-streaked sky. The calm airless quality suggests an otherworldly atmosphere. Though his aesthetic is definitively modern, aspects of his approach hark back to historical references and traditions.
Dunlap taught at Appalachian State University in North Carolina from 1970-1979; at Memphis State University in 1979; and at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 1980. His work has been exhibited at numerous institutions, including the Gibbes Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Mint Museum of Art, Morris Museum of Art, Mississippi Museum of Art, and Ogden Museum of Southern Art.