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  • Writer's pictureCarol Wiebe

It Is Like Seeing the Truth

Karen Kunc has become well know, in art circles, for her large-scale woodcuts. Kunc’s work has been shown in such renowned places as the  Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts, to name a few. She has actually had more than 100 exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. She has also taught numerous printmaking workshops around the world.

A slide show of Kunc’s work at Anderson O’Brien Fine Art reveals the fascinating abstract details and shapes that grace her prints. A few more pieces are available for viewing at artnet, and the Smithsonian.

Davidson Galleries provides insight into her more recent work:

The artist creates ambiguous spatial illusions by juxtaposing elements of shape and color and by creating a relationship between the edges of the paper and the breaking or interruption of the image. In Kunc’s work these formal ideas become symbolic abstractions, suggestive of landscape, unusual structures, or plant forms. Karen Kunc’s woodcuts and etchings address the ideas of the eternal forces that shape the natural world as a means to capture a moment, the alignment of chance encounters, the immeasurability of time and distance, and the invisible physical forces at work. She has put these notions into iconic images of creation, preservation, and allusions to human myth and metaphor.

Dream of an Echo~by Karen Kunc

Once again, I was thrilled to find a video on YouTube that gave me the opportunity to “see” some of Kunc’s work and hear her actual voice delivering insights into what she does and why she does it:

It’s really the same kind of instinct to make marks that you can trace all the way back to prehistoric man–that instinct to mark make. Printedness: it looks so unique. We can identify something as printed, as opposed to painted, or sculpted, of course, or some other kind of printing means, or photography. All of those things have a very specific kind of visual quality that I honor, am influenced by, and certainly use as an exploration for making art. The actual thing that I’m interested in seeing in art, or student’s art, is the idea of interpretation. Not just imitation. That’s the same quest we all have–to make sense of the world, interpreted somehow. To have that kind of interpretation and transformation of ideas filtered through this artistic persona. You can sense the energy from carving marks–actually sense that somebody’s hand moved through that material. It’s really a record of that energy transferal. I’m really on a search for finding out what these things that I chose and led from-which may be very spontaneous and instinctual things–all the way through to finding out what it might mean for me.

Please enjoy Renowned printmaker Karen Kunc visits Oregon State University:

Bookmaking goes hand in hand with printmaking for Kunc.  The Center for Book Arts informs us:

Artist Karen Kunc, also variously known as Blue Heron Press, has been making unique bookworks and limited editioned artists books for over 25 years.

Books by Karen Kunc

This “parallel diversion” (if you can call an ongoing investigation of bookmaking for 25 years a diversion) explores “the expressive possibilities of the 3-D book form:”

Her books incorporate vital, richly hued shapes with timeless textural language, leading to a sense of intimacy and detail, with the tactile resonance of wood, paper and impression.

Kunc, herself, poses the burning question, Why artists books? Kunc is asked this question so often that she surmises: “We all must be seeking our own understanding by asking everyone else for their own justification!” Yet, “[t]here is a sense of this medium having ‘arrived’, with museum interest, traveling shows with catchy titles, trendy themes for publications and craft books, workshops, maturing educational programs.”

What, then, is Kunc’s answer to the question? You can glean that for yourself from her article entitled Artist’s Books and the Burning Question.

The book is a classical form. Its function is accepted, known. Its feel is familiar. My images within this form allow for a validity, a ‘real’-ness, and ‘right’-ness. It is like seeing the truth. This comes about by this acceptance of the knowledge in books and our familiarity with its form.           ~Karen Kunc (from her general artists’ statement)

I have never created an artist book, but am noticing my attention steadily drawn in that direction. As a person who has read voraciously for my entire life, and has training as a professional librarian, I always approached books as a source of reading pleasure (novels and poetry) and information. I study art books, which photographically capture a selection of artworks by an artist or group of artists, or teach their techniques, but never seriously considered the artistic form of the book itself.

I admit that when I am focused in a certain direction, pulling me away from my engagement requires showing me or telling me some thing that penetrates and connects with my purpose (usually in a symbolic way). If you understand that last statement, you could probably achieve it! Art quilts, and mixed media paper quilts specifically, have taken center stage in the last few years. However, other forms are beginning to beckon, and the artist book has definitely joined that group of interests. Painting has gone beyond a mere interest and reached the siren stage.

The artist’s life is always dynamic.

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