“Primeval Messages” would be a better title for Karen Kunc’s exhibition at Fort Lewis College than “The Immeasurable.”
Her dense and colorful woodcuts are filled with lines, dots, grids, mazes and big, blobby shapes that form a kind of visual code.
Spread out and knotted into more than two dozen elaborate abstractions, the works are the result of a residency in Venice where light-water-and-stone imagery apparently inspired her.
Kunc is a professor of printmaking at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Her solo show and appearance in early March constitute an art residency at Fort Lewis. Unfortunately, the exhibit opened just as spring break began. One week of a three-week run already has disappeared. Still, it’s worth a visit before “The Immeasurable” closes March 24.
Woodcut admirers will be astonished at the technical mastery and compositional complexity of Kunc’s work. To the basic process of carving and printing, she has layered in stenciling, fingerprint blending and some over painting to achieve bold contrasts and intricate patterning.
Like Hokusai and Hiroshige, the famous masters of the form in 19th-century Japan, Kunc manages to retain transparency while exploring rich color.
Abstract as her new works are, they suggest light on water and stones under water. The prints also include jarring contrasts by employing geometric imagery.
Kunc’s artist’s statement is of little help with this anomaly. Convoluted and overwritten, her words read like so much academic jargon. Kunc’s writing bewilders when it could illuminate. Here’s a sample:
“These new prints are seen in context to my ongoing body of work offering environmental and politically charged awareness and poetically poignant ideas through my visual vocabulary, based on the visualization of symbiotic relationships and order.
In addressing large and timely issues, I conceptualize on place and identity from the center of everywhere, and ‘nowhere,’ as I consider my home in Nebraska, and the exoticism of other places and the microcosm to the macro-spatial dimension.”
Kunc claims a political agenda: “The meaning and subject of water provokes issues on threat and benevolence as a poignant meaning and memory.”
Kunc could have simply elaborated on the contrast between organic and geometric forms. She often juxtaposes shapes that suggest stones, trees or river patterns with hard squares, rectangles, grids or mazes.
The yin-yang of soft natural shapes and rigid urban geometry could certainly be evoked in words. It’s obvious in the prints. Why tart up her complex, effulgent, almost Baroque imagery with equally convoluted sentences such as:
“I visually speculate on what we contain or exploit, resource usage, land use and abuse, water rights/needs, genetic manipulations, human struggle against nature and for control.”
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.