By Adam Steiss
As a Dutch émigré and a painter, it is no surprise that Harold Klunder counts Vincent van Gogh and Willem de Kooning among his main artistic influences—and this is certainly obvious in his vibrant new collection of oil paintings and etchings.
Harold Klunder with some panels from his visual epic, Infinity on Trial. Photo: Adam Steiss
Entitled Amorphous Amoebae, Klunder's exhibition has been put together by guest curator James D. Campbell and is currently on display at the McClure Gallery at the Visual Arts Centre.
Born in 1943 in the Netherlands, he immigrated to Canada in 1952 and has become a well-known and celebrated painter in the Canadian art scene, enjoying over 40 years of studio practice in Ontario and Quebec. Klunder also teaches courses at the Visual Arts Centre.
The works Klunder has placed on display blend elements of both abstract and figurative art and are styled in what the artist calls a representation of “psychic realism.” “We connect with things in a psychic way and realism for the most part suggests doing something very realistically, but there’s a kind of inner realism that manifests itself artistically. In a sense it’s similar to music in that if it is a dark and dreary day you will play deep chords that reflect that day,” he said. “That to me is a psychic sense of connecting with something, and that is what I try to implement into my paintings.”
This sense is reflected in the exhibited pieces, many of which are self portraits done in diverse and engaging varieties of colours and forms that give each painting its own distinct identity. However, the most imposing of Klunder’s featured pieces is not a portrait but a piece entitled 'Infinity on Trial', a massive, six-panel work whose prospect of creation he found at first to be intimidating: “It is the largest work I have done," he said of 'Infinity on Trial'. "It is a plan I’ve had for about 10 years to do something of this scale. I have to admit that when you put yourself out like that and it doesn’t work, it can be a disaster. With 'Infinity On Trial', it started with an idea of having panels and making each panel an interesting subject unto itself and then putting the six together in a sort of narrative.”
In order to find a narrative in which to define his work Klunder turned to another art form in music: “I listened to music a lot and to Bob Dylan’s 'Visions of Johanna' song in which he talks about infinity on trial. The song was recorded in 1963, but it is apt now more than ever in the sense that everything these days is up for grabs,” he said. “It’s just a different world where no one knows where we are heading and the planet itself seems in peril. However, I do paint mostly on feeling ands this piece is less of a statement and more of my personal reflection on the times we live in.”
Aside from van Gogh and de Kooning, Klunder also draws inspiration from figures such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The influences of both abstract and figurative art are harmonized into each of Klunder’s works, as he admits that he is not devoted solely to one of these art forms. “Abstract doesn’t quite give me what I want because it’s too much on relationships within a painting and these aren’t necessarily,” he said. “I don’t really make shapes just to go with other shapes, there is a definite intent where I try to capture that idea of something else rather than be necessarily classified as a figurative painter just as I didn’t want to be seen as an abstract painter.”
With his harmonizing style, Klunder has gained a reputation as one of Canada’s most accomplished and gifted artists. His works have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, as well as in numerous private collections in Canada and abroad. Busy with teaching and maintaining studios in Quebec, Ontario, and in Berlin, Germany, Klunder does not see his artistic career ending anytime soon. “I have a very clear need to paint, some would say a hell-bent need,” he said. “There is definitely a need pressing me to always do more. It’s sort of comparable to playing a guitar in that if I haven’t painted in a while it’s hard for me to get back into it so I try to paint every day.”
Amorphous Amoebae: Recent Paintings and Etchings by Harold Klunder remains at the McClure Gallery of the Visual Arts Centre, 350 Victoria Ave., through May 19. Info: 514-488-9558.