Imagine doing something you love for seventy years. Many people aren’t lucky enough to live that long, much less put their heart and soul into their passion projects for seven decades – but that’s exactly what native New Orleanian George Dunbar (born in 1927) has done with his art.

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is honoring Dunbar with George Dunbar: Elements of Chance, the first comprehensive retrospective of his work, an exhibition which continues through February 19th.

“George is one of the city’s most beloved and longest working artists,” said Katie Pfohl, curator of modern and contemporary art at NOMA. “The longevity and quality of his career is remarkable.”

'Iphis', 2001

Orleans Gallery Membership Brochure Cover, 1958

'Coin du Lestin', c. 1960-70

George Dunbar in the 1950s, Collection of the Artist

George Dunbar in his Studio, Slidell, LA, 1997, Photo by Will Crocker

Dunbar studied art in New York City, Philadelphia, and Paris in the 1950s, with his first solo exhibition occurring in Philadelphia in 1953. During his studies, he met groundbreaking abstract artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

When he returned home, Dunbar played an important part in introducing abstract art to New Orleans and the South as a whole. In 2008, he received the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to art and culture in Louisiana.

When Dunbar came back to New Orleans, he was one of eight artists who co-founded the Orleans Gallery, the first artist-owned-and-operated collective art gallery in the city. That gallery helped to both introduce and sustain a culture of contemporary art in New Orleans, and one of the artworks on display in the retrospective is a membership brochure Dunbar created for the Orleans Gallery in 1958.

But Dunbar’s fame isn’t limited to the American South. His work can be viewed around the world, in galleries as prestigious as the British Museum, and it isn’t limited to paints on canvas either.

Being a native New Orleanian, I’ve had the privilege of exhibiting my work at NOMA several times, but have never had a true retrospective of my work. George Dunbar

He has also created sculptures, assemblages, and prints, and was know for using organic materials like clay, gold, and silver leaf. When one looks at Dunbar’s work, there’s a reverence to the natural world that’s distinctive.

In keeping with his fascination with nature, Dunbar also worked as a land developer. He created subdivisions on the Northshore, digging canals and clearing land in places like Chamale and Coin du Lestin, among others.

The NOMA retrospective will include some of Dunbar’s older work from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, most of which have not been in public view for decades.

“There’s going to be a lot of surprises in the show,” Pfohl said.

One of the highlights is Iphis, a 100-foot-tall work featuring palladium leaf over red, mauve, and black clay.

Another is the 2015 piece Le Grand Rouge, which was made with red clay and palladium leaf over rags and modeling paste.

Pfohl said the exhibition is a celebration not just of Dunbar’s work, but the artistic culture he and others created in the Crescent City. Art writers, patrons, museum donors, collectors, and gallery owners all helped establish a vibrant New Orleans art scene that still exists today.

A limited-edition artist book created by NOMA and Dunbar will be available for purchase. It includes an in-depth interview with NOMA Director Susan M. Taylor, as well as an essay by Pfohl on Dunbar’s place within 20th-century American art.

Dunbar, who lives in Slidell and is still painting at the age of 89, is excited and touched to see a retrospective of his life’s work displayed in his hometown.

“Being a native New Orleanian, I’ve had the privilege of exhibiting my work at NOMA several times, but have never had a true retrospective of my work,” Dunbar said. “I am honored and humbled that NOMA has chosen to show the entire progression of my career as an artist.”

For more information about the exhibition, visit NOMA’s website here. All of the above images are courtesy of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Main image: ‘Red M’, 1959,

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