Karen Gunderson

MICHAEL BRENSON: The New York Times: Fischbach Gallery: Friday January 8, 1988

Karen Gunderson
Fischbach Gallery
24 West 57th Street
Through Feb 3

With this show, Karen Gunderson has taken a giant step forward.   Her subject, as usual, is clouds, but they now cover far more territory.  Her paint is more physical, and darkness has become as convincing as light.  The new paintings are moodier, more dramatic.  The show is a carefully conceived, theatrical installation: each of the 12 works was planned for a specific location in the gallery, and paintings stretch around corners and climb onto the ceiling.

What is also new is the narrative ambition.  Each painting is a chapter in a story.  In the first work, it is dawn.  Then clouds meet, join, take shape.  In “Memory”, clouds fold back upon one another, forming and reforming, drinking light, becoming heavy and layered.  In “Babylon”, darkness struggles with light and the creature within the clouds is half-human, half-animal, like winged guardians in Assyrian reliefs.  In the last painting, “Her Becoming”, there is thick, momentary calm.

The main influences suggest the ambition.  There is the Michelangelo of the Sistine Chapel.  There is Abstract Expressionism.  And there is Chinese painting, with its humor, attention to nature and feeling for the integrity and personality of the individual brushstroke.  This is heady stuff, but these paintings seem like a manifesto of what Ms. Gunderson believes painting can always be.  She does not fall on her face, and that is saying a lot.