Karen Gunderson

MICHAEL BRENSON : The New York Times: Weekend Arts: Friday March 14, 1986

Karen Gunderson (Fischbach Gallery, 24 West 57th Street):  Karen Gunderson’s subject is still clouds- clouds that are upon us or beneath us and so high up that to enter the paintings in which we are usually invited would be to feel the bottom drop out under our feet.  Through art history, and through responding to issues of drawing, brushwork and the relation of figure and ground, Gunderson has built an increasingly eventful world that is rootless, transient and illusory, but filled with substance and dream.

Part of what makes her new paintings a step forward is that along with an awareness of Oriental art and modernism, there is a growing interest in the kind of volume that was present in Old-Master art.  The 17-foot long painting “Shared Light” sweeps us along a mountain range of clouds that rise and fall and swell.  Against the almost sculptural volume, the artist sets a flat, blue, iconic background.  An approach to painting that suggests the natural philosophy of Oriental art and the feeling for mass in Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture has been combined with an approach that suggests Byzantium.  The result is incorrigibly romantic, yet disabused; freewheeling, yet curt; light-hearted, yet wary.

Another new aspect of Gunderson’s work is the suggestion of human figures.  In “Shared Light,” a raised arm near the middle suggests one of Michelangelo’s “Slaves,” except that the figures to which the clouds are giving birth is a woman.  In “Sky Journey,” one of the clouds suggests a male figure bending over, also in the process of stretching his limbs.  Here, too, the figurative movement is so slow as to be almost somnambulistic.  In this lush, changing world, something unusual is taking shape.  (Through March 26.)