Karen Gunderson

THEODORE F. WOLFF : The Christian Science Monitor : She Meets Challenges That Go Back At Least To Kline And Pollock : Thursday April 26, 1984

Clouds are among the easiest of things to paint, and among the most difficult to turn into art.  Almost all attempts to do so have resulted in pretty pictures with little if any human or artistic significance.  But that should come as no surprise.  Clouds, after all, no matter how beautifully painted, have little bearing on human ideas, ideals, or realities.

Some excellent paintings of clouds do exist, however.  Constable and Turner made small oil and watercolor studies of cloud formations in order to understand how they were formed and how they related to stationary objects on the land.  And any number of other landscape painters in Europe and America have produced detailed studies of clouds to aid them in their understanding of light, atmosphere, and the elements.

None, however, has made clouds the primary subject of his or her art.  All have felt that the inclusion of the horizon and some indication of fields, hills, or cities were essential if their work was to be of interest or have artistic relevance.

Knowing this, I was surprised to discover that Karen Gunderson, a young American artist, was currently paintings pictures of clouds to the exclusion of everything else- and even more surprised to learn that they were considered art by several members of the art community.
I wasn’t quite totally convinced at first.  She was obviously serious about what she was doing, and the results were handsome and effective enough.  Even so, something was lacking.  Her paintings of clouds seemed more like large, tentative studies than completely realized works of art.

That perception ended dramatically, however, when I saw her recent New York exhibition.  Most of it represented what I already knew, but the rest – especially several large, recent canvases – was so superior to her other efforts that it was obvious she had made a quantum leap forward in only a few months’ time.

Not only were these newer works well painted, they were also dynamic and fully realized.  More important, they dealt successfully with formal ideas that have challenged the art world at least since the days of Kline and Pollock, and they did so through a subject matter never before taken quite seriously.