Karen Gunderson

JOHN DORSEY : The Sun : Karen Gunderson Sends In The Clouds : Thursday March 17, 1987

A lot of artists have concerned themselves with clouds, but one tends to think of clouds as parts of a larger whole, usually a landscape.  Karen Gunderson’s paintings of clouds- a group of which are on view at the C. Grimaldis Gallery in the exhibit “Karen Gunderson: New Paintings”- are just of clouds, and the sky that is revealed behind, beneath and above them.  Clouds are the all of these paintings, and they’re enough.

A good deal has been written about Gunderson’s clouds, relating them to various aspects of art history: to the clouds in Dutch landscape paintings, to Constable’s clouds, to Oriental art and, in the “all-over” aspect of Gunderson’s paintings, to the precedent of the abstract expressionists.  But these paintings don’t depend much on art historical associations for their strength; they have a quite impressive physical presence of their own.

I mean by physical presence that the seemingly palpable nature of these clouds is so potent that they draw the viewer into their existence and envelop him with their atmosphere.  In “evening’s Tide,” for instance, it’s quite obvious that the light-edged cloud is pushing against a wind that can virtually be felt.  The invisible wind is created as strongly as the sharp, bright edge of the cloud that looks as if a chunk could be torn out of it.

In “Pathway,” the volumes of the clouds shifting around a darker curving channel; manage, without suggesting the human body, to be sensuous, voluptuous, almost erotic.  “The Quieting” is a painting that actually turns a corner- imagine a corner of your room, with paintings that starts on one wall and continues around a corner on the next wall.  This adds to the illusion of the cloud’s three-dimensionality, so that its volume becomes even more solid- you feel a desire to reach out and embrace it, and there is an almost scary sense of being carried along with it in the air, it nothing underfoot.

In “The Return” a dark expanse of cloud comes up from the bottom of the canvas, then separates and spreads out in two directions forming a big “C” behind and beneath which is the blue of sky.  One feels as if lying on the cloud and stretching to peer over the edge at the void beneath.

Once you finish rolling around Gunderson’s clouds- and I mean that in the most complimentary sense of a physicality that mustn’t be denied- there are other things to notice.

So effectively does the artist capture the nature of clouds that they often project the eerie sense of apprehensible but non-observable motion that clouds possess.  When you look at a puffy cloud in the sky, often you now that its shape is changing but you can’t actually see it change.  Only by looking away and back again and noticing its slightly changed shape do you know that there’s motion there.  Gunderson’s clouds of course do not move, but they possess the power to make you think they have moved from moment to moment.  This dynamic quality is especially strong in “Together” and “Gathering.”

The light in these paintings, now touching their edges, now flooding their billowy volumes, has a life of its own.  It has that quality of seeming to glow from within the painting.