On a recent trip, a customs officer asked Henry what he does for a living. He said, “Painter.” “Like a house painter?”
Well, sort of.
In The House Painter, a man atop a paint spattered ladder reaches his brush to the top of the canvas. He’s Henry and he’s not Henry. The labor that goes into preparing a surface for painting–stretching the canvas taught and priming white with gesso–is dramatized in the subject painting a house facade. Gunderson completed ten house paintings, but The House Painter breaks from the conventions of the series. The figure rendered Trompe-l'oeil allows for a meta moment in the exhibition where we zoom out beyond the facade and see the house painter, painting in the shape of a house, we see the raw canvas exposed. Day laborer becomes fine artist, the two are interchangeable.
Blueskin VP100 depicts a house or shed under construction covered in Henry brand vapor barrier, a window in place of a nose gives a glimpse into the raw interior, while the blue eyes stare out at the viewer. In construction, builders use Henry brand products to make surfaces air tight, water tight, and weather tight to give protection against the elements. Blue on the surface, freckled with white screen printed logos, the giant house-shaped head feels like flayed skin, protecting a subcutaneous layer of commonality.
When Gunderson moved to Red Hook, Brooklyn a few years ago, his home was in such disrepair that the landlord offered him six months of free rent to fix it up. I remember him methodically remodeling the small house on a city block so that he could live like a ship’s captain in his domestic quarters with a single large studio room. He set himself to removing ceilings and laying floors, all while other houses on the block were being gentrified by huge crews building speculative luxury housing in hopes of flipping property that had once been flop houses for longshoremen. Inside this home studio, Henry Gunderson eventually made his House paintings, without any assistance.
After the move, his new surroundings found themselves in the paintings. The large cardinal with a healthy worm in its beak leans in at you with an exaggerated inquisitive leer, distorted as if through the lens of a peephole in a door in Painted Bird House. To paint the wildly colorful brush strokes, Gunderson built a large brush so he could work in the scale of the cardinal. While we know the big red bird lives in that house, when encountering other works, for example Blue Earth Dwelling, a child might ask, “Who lives here?” A pair of long boots with wet green and blue socks dry after a long stomp in the mud. “Could the occupant be Mother Earth herself?” one might ask themselves while noticing the prism refracting atmospheric rainbow around the facade. Or does the interior suggests a haunted house, do spirits live here?
For this exhibition, Gunderson paints seven house-shaped canvases, distilling the feelings of isolation into unpopulated facades. Nobody wants to talk about the pandemic, but something happened to our living spaces: we became momentarily atomized. If you are wondering if the house shape feels inherently psychological, it is. Preschool children have been asked to take the “House-Person-Tree test,” to evaluate their mental health for the last hundred years. Here, rather than a place where a family lives, Gunderson’s paintings feel single occupancy. They represent American loneness, from Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond to the cabin where Jack London wrote White Fang or even Ted Kaczynski’s shack. These house paintings are “Unapaintings” as much as they are a group of paintings.
Text by Joey Frank
Né en 1990 à San Francisco, CA
Habite et travaille à New York, NY
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Gunderson received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Gunderson has had solo exhibitions at 247365 (New York), Loyal (Stockholm), Water McBeer (New York), Ever Gold (San Francisco), Carl Kostyal (London), Castiglioni (Milan), Derek Eller (New York) and has been included in numerous exhibitions in the US and abroad.