KAREN GUNDERSON

 

Gunderson shows that black can be an ideal medium of representation when it is used to represent objects that exist in the negative space of memory, which is a kind of fiction--Queen Isabella and King Philip, for example. They are indeed negative spaces and negative forms.  Their negativeness is in fact crucial to the art with which Gunderson subtly integrates negative and positive spaces, even as her flat surface and rich texture keep the dialectical tension between them alive.  Her representation of the royal figures stands to their once living presence as a negative does to the photograph that can be positively developed from it.  Except that her figures, and the flowers that surround them, remain negative in perpetuity--artistically embalmed in black.  Grand, surreally enduring hadean ghosts, they are magically vitalized through Gunderson’s chiaroscuro and texture, suggesting that they will never fade from memory however absent they will always be.

Gunderson’s paintings are all the more uncanny because of their ornamental grandeur--appropriate to their theme, but having a spectacular life of its own.  Since Adolf Loos deplored its use in architecture, ornament has been understood as impure and anti-modernist.  But the stripped down functional look has outlived its day, becoming a stereotype of itself, however much it has achieved its own eloquence.  And, as Wilhelm Worringer makes clear, ornament remained alive in gothic expressionistic gesture, where it conveys empathic immersion in life however autonomous it seems to become.  What Gunderson does is use the extravagant ornament of the royal costumes as a kind of abstract expressionist device.  It is sometimes highly patterned, as in Philip’s decorative outfit, sometimes freeflowing, as in Isabella’s gown.  It is always physically and emotionally intense. Luminous ornament gives the figures inner life even as it suggests their otherworldliness:  they live in a solitary world apart, as though on a higher plane--the rooms in which they stand suggest as much--not only because of their royalty but because they have been apotheosized by art.

Donald Kuspit