Karen Gunderson

STEVE PURCHASE: The Evening Sun: Gunderson’s Visions Are Heavenly Ones: Thursday, March 12, 1987

Karen Gunderson’s new paintings are almost heaven, if you believe that heaven is up there somewhere in the Great Beyond.

Gunderson paints clouds, big fluffy white clouds that fill her canvases and even stretch around corners, drawing viewers’ eyes and thoughts heavenward.

In the 15 oil paintings and gouache and watercolor works at the Grimaldis, clouds and bits and pieces of sky are the only subject matter.  Sometimes rays of sunlight cast delicate pink or gold shadows on the clouds; otherwise, white and various shades of blue predominate in these tightly cropped works.

Although clouds often have played an important part in landscape painting through the ages, Gunderson has created a unique vision of a totally commonplace phenomenon- the beautiful, constantly changing puffs of water vapor that surround the planet.

While most of us are used to looking at clouds from far away, Gunderson’s perspectives puts us in the cockpit of a jet fighter or in the eyes of a bird, and we meet clouds head-on.  Clouds and universe are one.

Two of the most arresting paintings in the show, “The Quieting” and “The Beginning,” are made up of two canvases each that respectively “bend” around a corner and the ceiling.  “Beginning” is about 8 feet high and 3 feet wide with a 2- by 3-foot panel on the ceiling.
Gunderson has a subtle touch with light.  A twilight sun lights up the clouds in “Evening’s Graces” with a purple tint; “Evening’s Graces,” in which clouds connect like interlaced fingers, is tinged with turquoise.

I found the three gouache and watercolor works even stronger than the oils.  The colors are more intense, the definition of sky and clouds crisper, the sense of weightlessness even more palpable.

Gunderson, 44, is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.  She now lives in New York City.