Image: Amanda Dunbar paints sculpture
Alan Diaz  /  AP
Amanda Dunbar paints a Gibson guitar sculpture for a fundraiser in Miami, Fla.
updated 4/2/2009 1:15:26 PM ET 2009-04-02T17:15:26

Amanda Dunbar's life changed when she was 13 because of an after-school art class.

Until then, she had never shown a huge talent for art, but when she picked up a brush and oil paints, everything became Technicolor. Her artistic talent bloomed and she was pronounced a child prodigy.

Now 26, she is an artist whose work sells for up to $1 million, and she is giving back to help those in need. Dunbar has painted a 10-foot fiberglass Gibson Les Paul Guitar sculpture for the Miami GuitarTown project, an international program by Gibson Guitars in which artists donate their work to raise money for charities.

Dunbar's piece will be one of 35 sculptures displayed throughout the city in May along with 35 regular showcase guitars, which will be auctioned Sept. 26. The money raised will go to Miami Music & Art Fund, Miami Children's Hospital Foundation, and the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood.

The bottom of her guitar sculpture is painted with purple swirling shapes that become red and orange, yellow and swirls of white. She wanted people to touch it and see the texture, something for which she strives with all her work.

"I'm kind of using the style that I am pretty much well-known for with my own paintings, which is using a lot of texture and a lot of color ... shapes that kind of undulate, swirly, just lots of movement," Dunbar said.

She painted the guitar inside the Gibson Guitar offices in the design district of Miami. People were tuning guitars and jamming in the background as she worked. She laid all her paints around her feet and used a ladder to get to the high points of the guitar.

"I would love for people to take away just the feeling that art is a fun thing, its an approachable thing and if they wanted to they could go home and make their own work," she said.

Guided by 'angels'
Dunbar has named her guitar "Miami Heat" in honor of the basketball team.

"It really was just based on waves, heat waves, ocean waves, and heat, and summer. ... Almost like a sunset or sunrise," she said.

Dunbar grew up in Ontario, Canada, but her family moved to Dallas when she was a teenager. She still spends most of her time in Dallas because she is working on her graduate degree in art history, but she has a home in Hollywood, Fla.

Her father, Ken Dunbar, said there was no indication that his daughter was talented until she began using oils.

She had her first gallery show at 16 and sold almost all the 60 paintings on display for about $500,000. After that, word of her work spread. Dunbar describes her paintings as "impressionism in primaries" and regards Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin as her favorite artists.

"I call them my angels. I figure that I personally don't have any great talent other than being able to sit still and allow, I guess, my angels to work through me," she said.

An average painting costs between $15,000 to $20,000, but she has done small works that go for $1,000 to $2,000; giant installations are more expensive. She also decorates playable guitars. They range from $10,000 to $35,000, embellished with the Swarovski crystals and up to $75,000 for ones with real jewels.

"It's usable art," Ken Dunbar said. "It's nice to know that she's doing what she loves doing."

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