Karen Gunderson

ROSE SLIVKA: Art in America: Karen Gunderson at Fischbach: October 1984

Karen Gunderson renders the sky as her universe of forms and movement in naturalistic oil painting of dramatic scale. Her monumental orchestration of whites, blues and lavender-tipped grays in the 7-by-9-foot New Morning makes an amphitheater of white-misted mountains careening into blue, wave on wave through light and cloud. The painting lavishes itself in change, its subject the migration of mountains through the day, a floating avalanche of cloud in their wake. Gunderson presents a procession of timelessness, clouds reflection present light, forming the present in their languid mass, reforming again with no past, no history.

These paintings are rigorous in their attention to explicit detail, accurately reflection the variety of cumulus, nimbus, cirrus forms: mindful of time, season, weather, they are also richly suggestive. In Shawnay, Streaks of rose blush underline the drifting herd of slow floated hulls with light fanning into nectarine in an early evening spring sky of mild blue. Within these voluptuous skyscapes there are also images of waterfalls, cascades of them, small spilling crests-as well as boulders, indeed tumbleweeds of cloud blowing across blue desert space. Then there are great stacks- implacable buttresses-of cumulus forms, form gulping after formlessness.

Gunderson comes form the Midwest where the vast and encompassing sky splits of dramatically from the relentlessly level earthline, and not surprisingly sees the heavens as a churning pageant above the stationary plains. There is a majesty of imagination in Gunderson’s handling of this subject matter, her metaphor of earthly flux and change.

These are not merely beautiful paintings. They are taut, firm and muscular as they grapple with the gorgeousness and grandiosity of their imagery. It takes guts to inhabit the classic territory of angels and Tiepolo, and Gunderson is up there, literally looking the sky in the eye, inside the blue, on the same level as the clouds, some times even looking down, always giving us her view, always from the vantage of the artist.