Paintings from Sunset Series by Spence Munsinger, Color Field + Blank White Canvas + Realism + Contemporary Abstract Art, original paintings for sale

"I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move. ”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

expatriate artist

 

I am an expatriate Southern Californian. How I look at light. My conception of space and perspective. Color and form, translated into paint on canvas, and from that to plane and three dimensional space implied on two dimensions. All of this is sourced from this sense of being elsewhere.

I learned to see in California. I know colors and forms and techniques learned and drilled from that space. It doesn’t leave, it still influences.

I miss an ocean to the West, a long line of water and sand roughly north-south. I had always located direction and location from that. Move an ocean to the east and that expansive sense of space and innate ability to feel located is just gone.

The sun rises over the ocean in the east, backward, distorting time. The days in the northeast are dramatically longer in summer, shorter in winter.

Summer encloses space in trees and foliage, vines and bushes explode in the spring. Sight lines are interrupted, broken, occluded. In fall the space opens back up, but with the openness soon loses all color, dropping back to simplistic greys and browns and line and shadow. The space is back, but at a price of limited light and dropped temperatures.

Lying on a beach in February, in Malibu, feeling the warm grit of the sand supporting and bouying, and the sun flodding light and color. The rhythm of the waves, swells crossing huge distances over the Pacific, finally mounting the continental shelf and lapping at the edge of the world.

It is right now 14 degrees outside my door, at 4:00 PM the light is shadows, and I’ve just spent three hours clearing my driveway of snow. In New England. In the winter. Which basically implies that I’m here, this is expected and I don’t have the right to complain too much. Some grumbling is expected.

It does not feel like home here, as an artist. I don’t believe it ever will. There will always be sand and sunsets and true beaches and warm days in winter in my soul. I source images and emotion from that, and from the separation and dislocation of painting in the Northeast.

Artists are supposed to be classed by location. A “New England artist” constributes to a collector understanding the work, or at least feeling that they understand the work. I live in New England. I am a Southern California artist. That’s truth.

 

CA coast

 

— spence

 

balance and the edge of creativity

 

I’ve been thinking about the process of painting. I’m defining the sunset series, refining the words that describe why sunsets and where that comes from. I’m also looking for the words to explain and express and place myself as an artist.

 

sunset #4

 

Creativity is a balance, a choosing of alternate paths of action and thought. An intuitive sense of balance and motion, like listening to musical rhythm and counterpoint, harmony and backbeat. I sense color and emotional resonances from form and color in a particular place on a canvas, relate that to the push and the pull of space across that two dimensional surface, that transforming of planes into space and motion. From that I listen to what might be. Maybe several might-be’s. I choose.

That choice, that’s a knowing choice, with a result that I start measuring and judging the effect – what does that color and the form it takes, the plane it forms, affect in the painting? What motion does it create? What movement in the space of the canvas? What vibration? And what should happen next? And I start finding the next might-be’s.

It’s an aesthetic judgment and sense, knowing the materials and the tools, the surface and what is possible, drawing on experience, on training, and on a body of works.

Wolf Kahn wrote that art is the progression of an artist’s vision through his works, that each work reflects a progress. Mark Rothko wrote that each picture is a set of problems to be resolved. Hans Hofmann wrote that fine art is emotional resonance, like music.

 

wolf kahn

 

I read an article tonight by Johann Hari. He wrote of his experiences with a drug, a smart drug, Provigil. It treats narcolepsy, and given to someone without that condition, it stimulates alertness and from what Johann describes a feeling of effortless creativity and intelligence. It sounded so good.

 

provigil

 

If only intelligence were so easy. Before you run out a get an illicit supply of Provigil, let me remind you that the brain is a precisely equilibrated machine. Even drugs that don’t appear to have any negative side-effects – who wouldn’t want a more focused brain? – can actually have deleterious consequences.

In this case, the tradeoff involves creativity. Some of my friends who relied on crushed Ritalin during college used to joke about how the drugs were great for late-night cramming sessions, but that they seemed to suppress any kind of originality. In other words, increased focus came at the expense of the imagination. It makes perfect sense that such a cognitive trade-off would exist. Paying attention to a particular task – like writing an article – requires the brain to ignore all sorts of seemingly unrelated thoughts and stimuli bubbling up from below.

This hit home hard. Sometimes painting is an exercise in effort.

Like running. You feel tired and out of it and each step is an effort, and you get tied up in that heavy exhausted feeling. Often if you persist, that blows off and running becomes the joy it can be. Sometimes that heavy drudgery is all you are going to get this time through.

 

running

 

When painting clicks it’s like dancing, following the motions, the actions, a precision you can feel and a rightness to all of it that is extraordinary. It’s a balancing act between effort and no-thought. You have to balance between the effortless knowing of what to do next and the decisions and materials and running evaluation of where the work is moving to.

Eventually I’ll dislike something on the canvas. I’ll back away from it for awhile. Rarely, I’ll back it out, and continue. Usually, that critical balance has been lost. What I see as wrong won’t be wrong at a different time. It will at worst be a jumping off point and at best it was actually right, just the focus had been lost.

 

sunset #2

 

That creative balance would be impossible for me to achieve in a narrowed and restricted focus. The wider the net cast, the broader the attention span and awareness of now the deeper the creative impulses are. The price is that it isn’t always easy. But, it wasn’t meant to be.

— spence

new work – sunset #5 off PCH

 

PCH

sunset series (paintings)

new work – sunset #4 patio Solana Beach

 

4th Street

sunset series (paintings)

thoughts on sunsets

la jolla sunset

There is no moment of more intense color and beauty than a sunset in California. The light is perfect for just that moment and then changes and that instant is gone.

SUNSETS are a synthesis of that moment. You come up over the hill, and you see a moment of sunset, you feel an inner awe at the color and the intensity, you try to hold time still, to grab for the camera, to hold it in your mind. The sun sinks and the light changes and that supreme aesthetic, that moment you found resonant is gone.

In that moment of trying to hold and encompass, you widen the senses, to grab the panorama. Instead of concentrating on the colors and center and light over the ocean, you widen your attention and focus. The sunset is clear, but you also try to hold the periphery – road, sand, sidewalk, trees, silhouettes of buildings, the bright light cascading across, the color tinges from the experience. All of that.

If I painted photographically, the scene would look crystal clear. You would see the clarity of each item or the calculated blur. Take a photograph of a sunset – it will remind you of the memory of that, but it won’t do more than suggest the experience.

That moment of focus, of seeing the center and widening your awareness and consciousness to try and include the whole scene and experience and memory – that’s what these are.

Expressionism, abstract, but with reference to representation and form and space.

My growing up was sunsets. I was born in Berkeley, California. Almost immediately I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, in Eugene, Oregon, and in Urbana, Illinois. At the age of seven I moved from the flat anonymous suburbs of Illinois, where the highest elevation was a pile of dirt left on the vacant land at the edge of the subdivision, to Del Mar, California, a town on the coast of California north of San Diego.

I used to wake up at 5:00 AM, to cold light and fog, and sneak out across the back deck, down the path to the carport, out the driveway, down the hill to the path through to Pacific Coast Highway, dart across 101, out to the bluffs, down across the railway tracks, down stairs or path or rough trails in iceplant to the sandstone bluff and then the sand – clear expanses of endless sand stretching in my imagination north to Canada, south to the Chilean coast.

Early morning almost always meant fog, burning off through the day.


 

9th Street

 


To paint the experience of a sunset.

A sunset is that expansion of perception and focus, widened to perceive the sunset, that aesthetic form, and as wide a focus of perception around and beyond that as possible in an effort to freeze the moment and capture a full sense of it.

That effort moves toward the realization of an ecstatic perceptive experience – and as a visually oriented being (can you tell?) I try to become part of that experience – that’s the sunset I want to communicate. Sunsets actually. This is the product of watching and falling in love all over again with the sun through clouds and sky descending to the ocean to the west. I hope it comes through.


A painting should be a communication, profound and deep at best, to the core of the spirit.

The ultimate sunset would be a resonance of the perceptions I experience in seeing the original, experiencing the original – sight is easy, that’s direct reflected light and accuracy of perception – but that exact reflection, that’s not the experience. The artist adds and subtracts to bring about a communication of experience and vision.

So what is my sunset? It is a viewpoint of experience hitting harmony and gestural movement of paint and illusion of form and space, non-specific enough to invite the placing of form and space by the audience, but clear enough to direct the senses and the viewpoint into my world at that moment. Like music, it is visceral, felt communication, there should be an element of ecstatic experience, transcendence.

Rothko said better to tell less than more, and reduced his elements to more and more simplicity.

If I take a picture to capture an aesthetic moment – that simple photograph, without context and explanation, falls short in bring across that experience to someone else seeing it separately – my intention in painting is to bring about that additional communication of context and viewpoint – as if I explained vividly the entire context and experience. Art has the ability to transcend being a literal visual experience and to become much more, magical, and communicate experience in full.


To freeze a moment of aesthetic in time, to hold it and express that reaching to hold it in the mind in time, that exultation at the beauty and then that realization that it will be gone, changed, and that wishing to hold the experience. That’s the intention behind the images in this series.


 

4th Street

 


The contrast between New England and the West Coast of California…

Looking at DelMar in Google Earth – a tremendous feeling of nostalgia, longing, sorrow and loss for something that at the time was just – there. Uprooted from Illinois, planted in California, great, there’s a beach, and a lifestyle unapproachable anywhere else – an amazing childhood environment, both in time and in space. But it was just there. I was awed by the sunsets despite that lack of context. I am awed by the sunsets.

I am an ex-pat, an expatriate. There is a tension is finding sunsets to express from a West Coast view of the world, while living in New England. This sense of distance, of separation, and the bridging of that, is part of this series. The warmth and glow of these images is emotionally acute when there is a fresh 6′ snowfall outside the window and a temperature of 17 degrees.

Time is a constant acquiring of new experience from one look at it. And an immense abyss of loss ongoing and continuous from a different viewpoint.

Sunsets are archetypal, generalized through simplified form – details picked up and suggested to the viewer through gestures in paint. Surface texture, gestural, painterly, form and color all working toward a generalized and slightly abstracted idea of a sunset. Order from initial chaos. Texture and form that pulls to the surface, but a whole that suggests progression into space.

Demonstrating the ethereal beauty of a sunset and through that both the timelessness in that moment as spiritual and ephemeral in the effort to hold it still and fail, showing it as failed.


 

4th Street

 


— spence

sun moon and stars | in-progress

 

I wanted to combine pastels, airbrush and acrylics into a portrait, and this is the result so far.

I wanted a graffiti look to the whole, I wanted it to have the under paint of pastel work and color, but added texture and flatness of color and form of acrylic, and through that to bring about a tension of space and subject.

sun, moon and stars

— spence