(Flower Garden, oil on canvas, 60″ x 52″ by Ken Marunowski)
From April 1 to May 4, Bend artist Ken Marunowski will enjoy his first solo exhibit of abstract paintings at the LAURA VINCENT DESIGN & GALLERY in Portland’s Pearl District. The title of his show, Spirit of Play, epitomizes the artist’s philosophical and pragmatic approach to his work, one that emphasizes risk-taking, curiosity, problem-solving, intuition, spontaneity and abandon. Marunowski borrows the phrase “spirit of play” from Louis Finkelstein, painter, teacher and critic, who used it to describe the frame of mind he believed should be encouraged during an undergraduate art education (The Education of the Professional Artist. Art Education USA, 1970). Like Finkelstein, Ken is committed to an approach that embodies such an attitude but extends its timeframe to include the entirety of an artist’s career.
Marunowski’s typically large and sometimes quite colorful, oil on canvas paintings are primarily non-objective, that is, not referring to actual objects, figures or scenes. Instead, the paintings express a search, a desire to locate something within the space of the picture plane that can stir an emotion or evoke a particular feeling or sensation without directly naming it. With paintings of this formidable scale, often equal to or greater than the stature of the observer, the intensity of this search becomes a palpable reality, especially as vigorous mark-making, a hallmark of the artist’s work, emphatically activates the canvas. Spring Bloom, for example, celebrates awakening through bold, sweeping brushstrokes of exuberant color that lie directly on the picture’s surface, asserting their presence as the season. Whisper, a rare small-sized offering from the artist, suggests silent movement and general quietude as sparse marks and soft shapes of a limited complementary palette float in an ethereal space both near and far.
When asked about influences on his art, Marunowski is quick to cite Joan Mitchell and Willem de Kooning, his Abstract Expressionist heros, as well as Cy Twombly and Per Kirkeby. “I gather so much insight from studying reproductions and reading books about the artists I admire most and those, like Twombly, who I initially don’t understand but who I know hold some powerful key for me,” the artist states. “I learned from de Kooning about the rigor of process, from Mitchell about whole-field color relationships established through the mark, and from Kirkeby how scientific understanding can inform creativity, among other things of course. My paintings are a vast intertextual network interpreted through my personal lens, which itself varies based upon the day or the specific project.” he concludes.
A former Assistant Professor of Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Marunowski’s academic pursuits began with bachelor’s degrees in Studio Art (painting focus) and French, image and text, pursuits that continue to fascinate him. Having put painting on temporary hold while conducting his doctoral studies in literacy and rhetoric, Ken nonetheless integrated image-based research into his curriculum through studies in visual rhetoric, the persuasive appeal and use of images. After several years teaching advanced writing courses at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the writing professor could no longer ignore his artistic calling, and in 2015 Ken left academe to fully dedicate himself to painting. The educator’s passion for sharing his knowledge with others continues, however, as he teaches various painting and drawing classes in the Bend area and offers private lessons to those interested in a more in-depth study of painting, particularly abstract painting. “It’s quite wonderful the journey on which my passion for image and language studies have taken me. And now, having this incredible opportunity to exhibit my abstract paintings at such a gorgeous gallery as Laura’s is the rewarding realization of years of hard work that persevered despite various setbacks and moments of doubt,” Marunowski reveals.
The LAURA VINCENT DESIGN & GALLERY itself is ideally situated in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District on Davis between Eighth and Ninth streets. Spacious and flooded with natural light, the gallery invites passersby a generous view unto the artworks displayed and beckons them inside for a closer look. The approximately ten paintings selected by Vincent for Marunowski’s exhibit include works from 2017 to early 2021. Following the dark experience of 2020, the collection offers a breath of fresh air that coincides with the sense of beauty and hope that April brings.
Asked about how Marunowski’s exhibition, Spirit of Play, came to be, Laura Vincent shares the following: “It was upon seeing Ken’s painting, Flower Garden, that I knew at once such expressive works needed to be shared. The scale, the vibrancy of color and the conspicuous reference to nature all play a significant role in Marunowski’s more abstract paintings, but even more distinguishable is the visible exuberance of human mark making, a manifestation of elation on canvas.”
To experience the visible exuberance of Ken Marunowski’s Spirit of Play exhibit, please visit the LAURA VINCENT DESIGN & GALLERY from April 1 through May 4, Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-5:30pm, or by appointment (call 503-267-9225 or email firstname.lastname@example.org). Gather a sneak peak of this and other exciting exhibitions on the gallery’s website at lvdesignandgallery.com or Instagram page @lvdesignandgallery. To view Marunowski’s art, visit his website at kennethmarunowski.com or Instagram account @kenmarunowski.