Woodblock printmaker, printmaker, and book artist Karen Kunc channels her experience growing up in the Midwest, particularly Nebraska, into her full color prints.
“My prints suggest extreme weather conditions and natural forces at work, a sense of micro/macrocosm against the landscape, both wild and cultivated.”
But these are not traditional landscape images. She eschews obvious horizontality and sentimentality in favor of a rich vocabulary of abstract, fanciful forms reminiscent of the works of European modernists like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.
“I’ve always liked the two artists since college,” she says, “Klee, so playful, colorful patterns, unusual shapes… Kandinsky for abstraction, woodcuts; also Miro, the German Expressionists, and Edvard Munch.
“I’m not a talented musician,” she confessed, “but the harmony and dissonance of music are very much in my mind when working with rhythm, value contrasts, and color relationships. . I use the term “orchestration” to think about how to organize and use all these elements. »
Peoria woodblock print artist Cathie Crawford has known Kunc since they were both graduate printmaking students at Ohio State University.
“Karen is a master of relief engraving. His intricate multi-block reduction woodcuts are a superb use of color and texture,” Crawford said.
Kunc’s prodigious output includes a large number of artists’ books, in which his prints, although on a smaller scale, still convey the extent and power of natural forces. Titles such as Incantation, Temple Garden, Wild Remnant and Glacial Moment imbue connections to the natural world with mythical and spiritual associations.
Kunc mixes Eastern and Western traditions in printmaking. Reminiscent of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, his prints contrast sharp distinct elements with soft, atmospheric areas. Kunc trained extensively in Japan in Mokuhanga, a style of Japanese woodblock printing that is most famously associated with prints such as Hokusai’s Under the Wave of Kanagawa.
Finding the process both wonderful and challenging, Kunc found her own ways to mimic the effects, “I have a whole repertoire of various special inking methods with very finely applied oil-based lithography inks and transparent, all applied with a roller, and sometimes through a paper stencil to selectively ink areas.
She affirms, “for me it is not the technique that is the attraction but the aesthetics and the meaning of the effects, plus the historically significant impact of Japanese prints in the history of art and in the history wood engraving”.
Kunc’s work is featured in an ongoing exhibit that explores this history titled Then and Now: The Block Print Renaissance on display at the Wichita Art Museum in Wichita, Kan., through August 7. You can also see much more of his work at karen-kunc.com and constellation-studios.net.
From her home in Lincoln Neb., Kunc has traveled the world leading workshops and giving talks and becoming recognized as one of printmaking’s most sought-after ambassadors. After teaching at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln for 37 years, she retired in 2020 and makes it her mission to enrich her own community by involving others in print. Nine years ago, she opened Constellation Studios, an artist-owned business located in vibrant and diverse downtown Lincoln. It is both his studio and a community art center specializing in printmaking, book arts, and paper arts.
“I have a lot of engraving material and I want to share it with other artists. It’s a collaborative print studio where artists come to work with me or on their own independent projects. I can work here with workshops and community artists. In fact, Karen will be leading a workshop on Japanese water-based woodblock print Mokuhanga at Constellation Studios, August 5-7.
Kunc is no stranger to Peoria. She served as a juror for the Bradley International Prints and Drawings Exhibition and has exhibited and demonstrated her unique prints and artist’s books here. Peoria is fortunate to also have facilities where people can learn and practice engraving. The Peoria Art Guild holds workshops and classes in relief printing, typography, and book art. The Peoria Print Coop, whose membership is open to the public, meets at the Art Guild and Bradley University and offers studio access and instruction as well as opportunities for individual and collaborative art projects. (For more information, go to www.peoriaartguild.org/peoria-print-coop or contact the Peoria Art Guild.)