Color As the Shape of Thought: A Review of “ROSY” by Anna Kunz at McCormick Gallery

Anna Kunz, “Rosy Adjacencies Series (F),” 2018-2023, oil on fabric, 13″ x 11″/Photo courtesy of McCormick Gallery.

Anna Kunz is an escape artist.

But let’s back up a minute.

Color is a curious thing. It doesn’t exist in the abstract, it has no tail, you can’t catch it. There’s no red without the flashing lights of a passing fire engine, and Day-Glo pink is only an idea without the pretentious pair of skintight knee-scuffed Lululemons it declares. In fact, prior to the twentieth century, even the idea of Day-Glo pink didn’t exist.

So how do we make sense of paintings whose currency trades on the abstract exchanges of color? A property so mysterious that it only springs to life when attaching itself to other things.  When the act of painting abstractly, intuitively and spontaneously yields an image that describes nothing aside from itself, what is the color defining?

Color sets traps and if not firmly lashed to the mast of studio practice, its luminescent song will crash a painter into the rocks. And the retinal frisson of improvisational art will quickly degenerate into a stylistic jail for the aesthetically deprived.

Anna Kunz, “Rosy Adjacencies Series (C),” 2018-2023, oil on fabric, 13″ x 11″/Photo courtesy of McCormick Gallery.

But Anna Kunz is an escape artist. For her new solo show at McCormick Gallery, she effectively presents three installations comprised of fabric, paper and dozens of untitled, small-scale permutations of terse lines, bright colors, and bulbous shapes. All abstract, playful, rolling and expanding, contracting and kaleidoscopic, made in the moment of the moment. It’s the prison architecture of lesser artists. Houdini-like, Kunz is never trapped by them.

Kunz’s compositions are earnest and poetic, like she’s always using that teal blue to try and figure something out. And when compositionally repetitive, the oils of the “Rosy Adjacencies” are like mantras, restating themselves in layers, in structure, stroke and format. Kunz has a penchant for a kind of swirling centripetal form that draws the viewer’s eye from the periphery of her canvases to the central color masses. They seem to echo the movements of the artist’s hand as it glides across the surface. Compact and inviting in these small works, bodily and assertive in her larger ones.

Anna Kunz, “Rosy Adjacencies Series (I),” 2018-2023, oil on fabric, 13″ x 11″/Photo courtesy of McCormick Gallery

In most of the artist’s work, color defines edge, it gives contour to the shapes that give structure to her compositions. Less often, color defines space. And when it does, it’s usually of the highly compressed, shallow variety.  It’s only in the enigmatically vaporous “Suspended Painting”—a pale polyester fusion of digital print and pigment—that Kunz’s color comes closest to defining itself, acting as a pure light.

Although it may not seem like it (inured as we are to artists’ willingness to show anything they touch), “ROSY” is something of a risk for Kunz, whose practice is oriented around the primacy of the finished work. Displaying what amounts to a collection of studies could reveal the limitations inherent in her approach. Instead, it demonstrates the opposite, inviting the viewer to thumb through a process to discover that, for the artist, color is the shape of thought.

“ROSY” is on view at McCormick Gallery, 835 West Washington, through October 27.

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