Thursday, July 23, 2009

Earl Cunningham

Sunrise Pine Point
Earl Cunningham (American, 1893-1977)
Image: Smithsonian blog

My discovery of Earl Cunningham's work stems from a new exhibition catalog and artist monograph in our library, Earl Cunningham's America. Perfect for a rainy day like the one currently here in Toledo, Cunningham's work bursts with color and richness.

Cunningham's work has been relatively unknown for a long time due to times when his preference was for not selling it. While he once owned an art and antiques gallery he hung his paintings in it, but they were never for sale. Happily many of his works have been pulled together and we can enjoy the work of a wonderfully creative man.

While his categorization as a folk artist surrounds his lack of formal education as well as his simple style and subject matter many see him his work as modernist. Comparisons are made to the flatness of Matisse and the brilliant color of Matisse and Van Gogh. He has also been compared to Mardsen Hartley and Charles Burchfield.

Cunningham embraced the label of folk artist, marketing himself as such and referring to himself as a "primitive artist". ("A Bird’s-Eye Perspective and a Seaman’s Sensitivity to the Sky" NY Times) I don't see the distinction as making much of a difference, the paintings are what they are and I like them very much.

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