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Why Henry Gunderson’s Work Will Surprise You

Henry Gunderson,  BioSupport, 2016,  48”x 96” acrylic on canvas,  photo credit: 247365
Henry Gunderson, BioSupport, 2016, 48”x 96” acrylic on canvas, photo credit: 247365

Henry Gunderson’s paintings will always surprise you. He switches up his styles with each new body of work. From what looks like an assembly of instruction manuals of nonsensical parts to sneakers filled in with microcosms of objects, his work is always painted with remarkable skill. It is always done by hand, in acrylic and flashe paint on canvas. Gunderson gives deep care and respect to how precise his lines are laid down. They come across in almost a digital sensibility. His white backgrounds are as carefully even as the negative space on a website page. Each painting encapsulates a character, almost as a portrait of an identity.

In one sneaker painting we see a worm crawling in and out of the lace holes, the continents of the globe make up most of the body of the shoe, while a string of childlike characters span the treads. A meteor is pictured barreling down about to strike. Some of these elements seemingly appear from completely different realms. When examined all together, we can create an idea of a world about to explode under the weight of international politics. We start to make connections such as the apple in the top of the tongue of the shoe, which is commonly seen as a symbol of thanks to teachers from their students. However, the apple is burrowed through by the worm, but the worm is binding the shoe as well. A complicated web is laid out for us to dissect –which is the joy of viewing Gunderson’s paintings.

Installation view of Henry Gundersons Shoes Etc. at 247365 gallery in NYC, photo credit: 247365

We are left wondering are these reads of the painting the intentions of the artists or has this been assembled seemingly random? We then have no choice but to create connections based off of prior stories, rituals and common imagery inherent to our own experiences or views of the world.

This gets really fun when you’re able to view these works in person. From afar these works are compelling, clean, bright, and full of color. But when you get a chance to dive in, you realize these paintings are huge, the sneakers being at least eight feet wide. You then dive into a world of decoding of the micro-information. Gunderson takes brand names, borrowed for the font and replaces the brand name with parodies, which further play into the viewer’s personal decoding of the painting.

These works are unique in the sense that you can actually take a long time looking at them, but what’s also remarkable is that the images travel well online. They perfectly shrink down to the size of the screen or mobile device, which was definitely an intention in Gunderson’s work- to create equity of visibility.

Installation view of Henry Gunderson’s 2 and 2, at 247365 NYC, photo credit: 247365

In another series of work; we can call , The Instruction Manuals. The viewer sees a very large 4 by 8-foot painting of what appears to be a “how to” part by part for make a painting. On one side of the canvas, we see the four wooden stretcher bars painted out, as well as a swatch of canvas, each with their own representing numbered parts. This makes sense as materials, but then on the other side of the painting we see multiple paint brush strokes laid and spread out, but also numbered. This can imply that there is a placement for each stroke to create an imaginary painting elsewhere. However, when you look closely, you realize these strokes have also been painted with a subtle Trompe l’oeil. These highlights reinforce their viscerality. We stand back and we can laugh at this joke with Gunderson. But when we stand even further back, we can also ask, “but is this a good painting?” Or we can ask if that’s even the correct question. It seems that this painting is meant to take a jab at more abstract painters, who can get away with raw paint slinging without instruction. When does a painting become finished, or good, or compelling? Where is paint supposed to land? If you deconstruct all elements of a great painting, is it still great?

Henry Gunderson, Expresser, 60”x96” acrylic on canvas, 2015, photo credit: 247365

Regardless of an initial impression that one has confronted when viewing Gunderson’s work, it is undeniable the amount of intrigue and time his paintings demand. It’s really quite an accomplishment in such an age of fast paced, “swipe to next” style viewing.