Karen Gunderson

TOM WEISSER : City Paper : Karen Gunderson, New Paintings : March, 1987

Karen Gunderson, New Paintings
C. Grimaldis Gallery
523 N Charles St
Through March

What airline traveler hasn’t gazed out at a cottony bank of clouds and seen himself bouncing around in defiance of physical laws at 30,000 feet?  This has surely occurred to Karen Gunderson; her large cloud pictures appear to have been painted from precisely that perspective.  No wispy vapors floating on a far-off horizon here.  This is up close and personal cloud-work, white stuff solid enough to support a choir of angels and several Blessed Saints.
Not that art of the Old Master sort is Gunderson’s game.  Her clouds bear that sheen of oil paint and the tracks of a wide brush.  Illusionism, we conclude, is not the point.  These are pictures of Something Else.

A cloud shaped improbably like a flexing bicep is entitled “Strength” Two puffy cloud-faces close in profile are called “Conversation.”  Finger clouds on the verge of interlacing are “Evening Graces.”  The formations in “The Sleepers” look very much like toddler’s pajama legs.

Sound dumb?  Maybe, though no dumber than a painting of stripes, or of drips or rectangles or a face.  Every picture must take the viewer beyond its surface identity in order to succeed.  Here, the anthropomorphic content is made so obvious that you’re inclined (perhaps dared) to dismiss the pictures as just of clouds, without taking notice of how and why they do succeed- for their abstract values.

This should be a controversial show.  At this stage of art’s evolution, pictures that can arouse intense reaction or even puzzlement are uncommon.  Controversy may be no accomplishment in itself, but to be able to create one out of a subject as venerable and as pure as clouds raises some pretty interesting presumptions.