Atrium Gallery commenced 2021 with a tandem exhibition titled “Duo” from Karen Kunc and her late spouse, Kenny Walton.
“Duo,” which opened on Dec. 4, is running till Jan. 30 in Carolyn Miles’ luxe central city/county gallery at St. Louis’ westernmost boundary, fronting on Forest Park. It features woodblock prints by Kunc and handblown glass by Walton.
“I was looking for something with a little more intimacy, a little more intrigue than the ‘calm’ work we have been focused on during the past few months,” says Miles, by way of explaining the general inspiration for the exhibition. “Kunc and Walton both bring not only high – often intense – color but also a complexity to the structure of the composition which is engaging.”
Through her woodblock prints, Kunc relates, she seeks to “obliquely address environmental and politically charged awareness, while always creating poetically poignant visual images and beautiful, edgy visual sensations.
“My senses are attuned to my rural surroundings [in a southeastern Nebraska village], expressed in work that visually evokes the natural world and addresses the metaphoric interdependent relationship of humankind with and against nature. The urban experience is juxtaposed as harsh shapes, compressed spaces, jarring imbalances, for a cacophonous impression of visual tension.”
Among potential sub rosa sociopolitical topics of her prints, Kunc mentions land use, water rights, genetic plant manipulation and body modification.
“I draw from my rural sources: cracks in the ground, growth patterns in plants, makeshift/manmade structures, patterns of decay and weathering … ,” she continues.
“In the urban setting, I see compelling images in weeds in cement cracks, stunted nature, confined spaces, structures of human dwellings as microcosms, a sense of compression and pressure as a rhythmic design, an overwhelming human presence with a sense of the collective versus the individual, interwoven social stories and mental coping strategies, accumulation of excess and waste.”
Citing illuminated manuscripts as inspirations, Kunc relishes the energized contrasts in her work between linear etching and colorful, layered woodcut techniques.
Kunc ranks as a 30-year Atrium veteran, and Miles had been planning to again showcase her work when the heartbreaking news came that Walton had passed away due to COVID-19 complications. At that point, Miles resolved, with “Duo,” not only to showcase Kunc but also to honor Walton.
“It just feels so good to have them together, their very beautiful works complementing each other at this time,” she says. “There’s a certain richness to the exhibition which seems very appropriate for this holiday time, most especially for our ‘COVID year.’”
Atrium Gallery, 665 S. Skinker Blvd., St. Louis, 314-367-1076, atriumgallery.net