While many contemporary artists could trace their creative lineage to the absurdist gestures of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades or the abstract formal investigations of Wassily Kandinsky, Brad Reuben Kunkle’s work is firmly rooted in the traditions and techniques established by the 18th-century Académie des Beaux-Arts. Kunkle, however, brings a contemporary sensibility to his formidable talent for representation, and “The Belonging,” a solo exhibition of new work on view at Arcadia Contemporary, proves the strength of this combination.
In his paintings, Kunkle refers to a constellation of influences—artists connected by their ability to produce tableaux whose skillfully heightened representations of nature offer an entry point into rich worlds of symbolism and allegory. The Pre-Raphaelites, their romantic depictions of episodes from Arthurian legend, Shakespearean literature, biblical passages, and epic poetry rendered in deep, saturated colors that mimicked the palette of medieval painting, are a clear touchstone for Kunkle, in approach as well as aesthetic: Like Kunkle, they rejected the dominant artistic modes of their time in favor of earlier manners of representation. The impact of painters as disparate as Maxfield Parrish and Gustav Klimt is also visible in Kunkle’s work, but he has cultivated a distinct voice among this chorus.
The Belonging (2014), the piece from which the exhibition takes its name, is Kunkle’s work at its best, and most particular. Two women stand in a golden field; their hands held before their faces, one cupped in the palm of the other, they appear to be engaged in a magical ritual, perhaps summoning the clouds that rise behind them. The image has been rendered in Kunkle’s controlled range of oils, in sepias and greys, complemented by the striking addition of silver and gold leaf that has come to characterize his paintings. In a most surprising flourish, however, Kunkle augments the work with multimedia components: projections have the women materialize, dematerialize and move, while sound lends the piece emotional gravity.
“The Belonging” reveals the artist at his most confident, and the work from which the exhibition takes its name exemplifies Kunkle’s ability to synthesize his influences into a style that has become decidedly personal and unequivocally contemporary.
“The Belonging” is on view at Arcadia Contemporary, New York, Dec. 11–31, 2014.