Mar 29 – May 5, 2012
Anchored in wit, Jerry Kunkel’s recent series appropriates and acknowledges noteworthy historical painters whose contributions further a romanticized version of the American West. Two of these well known painters of monumental landscapes such as Thomas Moran or Albert Bierstadt, prompted Kunkel’s newest painted interpretations while serving well as art about art with a cultural twist. While Kunkel states that his works “stand as poetic tributes” and as “visual love letters to a wide range of historical painters whose work I hold in high esteem,” Kunkel also brings forth his representation, with an edge. With admiration, Kunkel appropriates the master artist’s image and then distances the viewer from it through the guise of quasi tromp l’oeil – creating a painting of a photographic image of a painting taped to a working surface. The artist further sets tradition off its hold by including a textual reference toward the appropriated artist either superimposed onto his painting or contained in the title of the work. For example, Love Letter, Thomas Hill features Hill’s painting Sugar Loaf Peak, El Dorado County reappointed as the image bears Kunkel’s declarative mark – a painted stamp which reads, “Approved.” A further printed caption is intended to amuse and confound: “Dear Thomas Hill, whenever I look at your paintings, I always come away full of reverence and humility.”
Kunkel’s sense of humor is equally measured with respect for the painters who came before him. His drive is to shed light on accepted views of the world around, on art and commerce and of the societal tendency to accept one form of art at the expense of receiving another. The artist calls into question, through comical observation, whether human beings are so different now than in the past – poking fun more at culture, in truth, than the particular works by historical painters which were and continue to be resoundingly accepted as “real art.” Kunkel offers his own wit and painterly mastery as evidence of contemporary culture – if purposefully awkward – to allow for another look at human tendencies within traditions and to question the accepted view of any given place and time.