Fort suggests that the training athlete in the background of Wrestlers may “refer to the artist’s early professional training.” Similarly, Dunham’s inclusion of a female bather in one of his new canvases merges his former practice with his current efforts. In Any Day, one wrestler’s legs appear to be kicking the bather, forcing the artist’s previous body of work out of the way.
Dunham insists that he doesn’t think in the metaphorical terms that Robertson and Fort suggest. After the women of “Bathers,” he wanted to paint “maleness,” and wrestling simply occurred to him “as a universally understood and practiced ancient activity that seemed to have some sort of archetypal signification.” He saw it as a gendered subject, associated with boys and men.
Like Eakins, Dunham signs his pictures in a particularly bold way (The Wrestlers featured the former artist’s name and “1899” etched like graffiti onto a gym wall). At the top of All Day, amid the bright pink sky, he scrawls, “C.D. (March–Sept. 2017).” He makes his struggle with his materials explicit: any viewer can see how long it took him to grapple with the painting. Dunham often writes the names of the intervening months in pencil. The markings become a diary of sorts, a record of labor. They’re also reminiscent of the desperate scrawls of an inmate marking time on a cell wall: if the artist is autonomous, he’s also a prisoner of the canvases he’s started.