Why Brad Kunkle's paintings stick with us doesn't really need to be explained. They just do. They are arresting. When I learned about his latest solo exhibition at Arcadia Contemporary I made it a point to go, as I suggest you do, to see them in person while you have the chance. The light is changing, the tide ebbs and flows and opportunities are fleeting.
The Belonging (installation view) by Brad Kunkle
These lovely figures float in a suspended animation, a whirlwind of leaves and birds and souls and the metaphor of reflection is echoed in the silver and gold, the metal and the gaze coming forward, peering endlessly toward the procession of viewers or into the quiet room. An enlightenment comes in the contemplation and that one is afforded when in the company of the figures which Kunkle gives us.
The metal leaf that is a theme in Kunkle's work has an effect in person that has been hard for social media and the many major magazine article's to convey. The surface of Kunkle's work is fleeting and being able to experience it in the dark intimacy of Arcadia is a needed reprieve, a pulse lowering suspension from the flurry of the flock.
The light from the background in a piece titled, The Nature of History, reflects the warm intimacy of the gallery as people are led in past the reception desk, as if a storm dissipates in the sunset and in passing, the mood lightens and the sky turns a hint of blue, a gift from the natural rays streaming in from the source outside the windows. We are met with the gaze of the woman, her melancholy so beautifully painted. There is a depth in the surface of her face, with a mysterious wax-like luminosity and technical accuracy but most of all the expression is conveyed and then falls away over our shoulder as we pass into the gallery of about 20 paintings.
Seeing Kunkle's work in person, I immediately understand that these are paintings which speak different languages, exude a variety of moods as the days pass. I discovered myself taking longer, deeper breaths, my eyes, after darting around like sparrows, extends itself toward that which connects us all. The sepia tones that harmonize this consistent body of work connect me to my ancestors, to my appreciation for classical painting techniques and to myths that have yet to be told but yet are known as the river of history is known yet the mystery runs deep.
The depth comes and goes as the eyes are led about the compositions. The distant perspective of the foggy landscapes, and forward gazes meet on the surfaces which at times flatten out and bring one back to the present, for the moment, before one forgets and gets swept up in the mystery, the leaves of grass and hair once again. Just as you think of me, however many hundreds of years hence, So I have thought of you, however many hundreds of years hence.
This for me is the part of the power of painting, to convey across time what it was like, how it stirred us, the experience of feeling the wind across the skin, the movement of leaves and the endlessly inward journey mirroring the spiraling outward of galaxies. Brad Kunkle's paintings are a culmination of simple elements beautifully crafted into a cacophony of the senses that murmer to us the secrets that we already possess. They remind us of what we know in a way that is not quite possible to put ones finger on.
The exhibition's center piece is a large painting called The Belonging and is intended to give us a footing, however loose, for which to understand the show. It is more than a painting. It is a multi-media unfolding. Upon the surface of the painting with it's academic accuracy a projection appears. A ghost-like vision of the paintings two identical facing figures stepping out of their own bodies and meeting in the open space between them. Is this one person able to look at themselves, are we seeing sisters? Are we looking into the past? Into ourselves?
The Belonging (installation view) by Brad Kunkle
There is an exchange between the women and the masked figure that appears, a skull with horns and shrouded in mystery. They change places, they perform ritualistic gestures and carry objects from point to point, the exact point as elusive as the point of history itself, its illusionary nature that is so hard to grasp and yet fascinating to behold captures us. One is transported beyond words as the video projection plays out upon the surface of the painting and it seems we are vaguely connected to something as a leaf is connected to an eddy in the stream, for a little while. Kunkle also co-wrote the music for the Belinging installation and helped choreograph the film.
Kunkle's work resonates with me in a way I want a painting to do. Here is something I can live with. It doesn't need to expose the horrible so-called truths of our time as so much of Post Modern and Contemporary work seems to feel the urge to do but rather provides us with another way of seeing things, without irony. Kunkle asks us to forge a new relationship to nature and to our own temporary human condition. We are individuals, like leaves, as birds are but together we perform a singular dance, a whirlwind of earth and foliage and metal and paint, taking part in a murmuration of individuals.
By exploring the mystery in the way that Kunkle does we are held, comforted by a moment in time, we are encouraged to pause with comfort in the mystery before we step out, before we are pulled out into the currents of society. To me what I see here moves beyond most Contemporary Art. Kunkle is leading us forward into uncharted territory, beyond into something more Post Contemporary. He is providing us with something that celebrates being human, a sense of belonging and that is the real role of the artist, to provide what is missing. Kunkle delivers.
Brad Kunkle, The Belonging at Arcadia Contemporary
Arcadia Contemporary is downtown, south of Spring on Greene where Kunkle's latest solo exhibition, The Belonging is on view until Dec. 28th.