[Editor’s note: The following is the final part of a four-part exploration, which began with Michael Pearce’s eloquent essay in which he sets the stage as only Dr. Pearce can.]
or thirty thousand years we had worked stone. This first sight was as fresh and as suddenly revolutionary as electricity. It was instant love. We knew the earth was pregnant now. The stone gave birth to metal in a labor of heat and sweat. The secret of the meteorites was that the earth could be turned, that the hard stone could be softened and turned to the metallic quintessence, and shaped to plough-shares, swords and coin. Those ancient smiths are the original alchemists, workers of the mystic act of the transmutation of elements.
Perhaps here is the reason for the seductive work of these metal workers. At the end of the nigredo of postmodernity, the earth is ready for rebirth, a new world of art glowing like the fire of the meteorites. So when the soft grey light of the morning came, I awoke hungry for the work of artists who have befriended metal: the twenty first century smiths, who reach to us saying, “Here we are, the metalworkers, the alchemists, we are the ones who share the secret we have always known: that earth gives birth to mind, in an eternal conflagration.”
INTERVIEW WITH BRAD KUNKLE BY MICHAEL PEARCE
~ Brooklyn, New York ~
Michael Pearce: Is there a sensual quality to gold and silver that attracts you to it?
Brad Kunkle: Yes. the precious metals reflect a warm glow of the light from the room or space we’re occupying. It shifts in this beautiful ghostly way while the painting stays still. I suppose I’m attracted most to the way it absorbs and reflects light.
Michael Pearce: What does metal mean to you?
Brad Kunkle: Metal means a malleable universe to me. I mean that it’s composed of an organic material that we shape. And this is interesting to me because I’m very fascinated and inspired by the philosophy of allowing the universe to shape us. So it’s a link between us and our world. There is only so much we can do to warp nature within the confines of the laws of the natural world. The metals we shape then in turn shape us as well. A weapon, or a locket ~ they each affect us in very different ways.
Michael Pearce: To many people, gold implies materiality, wealth, money. Does it imply these things to you?
Brad Kunkle: Of course it does. That’s the beauty and tragedy of this element. It’s the most controversial element in the history of mankind. It also implies love and spirituality. The spiritual implication comes from its use in organized religion. But if we look at gold outside this context, we can see why it has been used to inspire our spiritual senses, which for me is the way it reflects light.
Michael Pearce: How does using metal reflect the ideology in your work?
Brad Kunkle: Well, on a lesser level, I use gold in my work as a sort of “F— you” to the all too often controversial art market that seems to value ‘art’ based on nothing more than what a previous billionaire has acquired it for as an investment. Sometimes I have $200 or more worth of gold in a painting, so it actually is worth something in relation to the gold standard. I do this tongue-in-cheek.
Brad Kunkle: My ideology or mythology is constantly shifting and very thick. It’s mostly about creating a mood, and a mood is difficult to describe or articulate for me. It’s almost a rabbit hole when I start discussing it, but it has a base in following our instincts or intuition as we navigate life.
A silver-leafed sky to me symbolizes a constantly shifting world, one where it is often difficult to follow instincts.
My ideology also follows the plight of the natural world and the inherent beauty that we ignore within it. In my paintings, gilded leaves from trees can symbolize the value of nature and create an ironic view of our industrialized world ~ one in which we are mining gold to create beautiful, valuable objects, instead of leaving it be. Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of me using it in my work as well.
Brad Kunkle: The power and beauty of the feminine has been constant in my ideology as well. As the author Tom Robbins puts it, we are living in an age where it is the “artist’s duty to bring back the old magic.” I’m fascinated with human ritual. We used to worship the feminine before the Abrahamic religions took power (using gold to entice followers, no less) and began to demonize women as evil and lesser beings. Eve is a perfect example. Without sounding too sentimental, I think it’s time for a shift in our thinking of how humans treat one another, and I believe a better balance of masculine and feminine energies is needed in most societies.
Michael Pearce: What is the relationship between the practice of making the paintings and the intention of the paintings? Are you experiencing a spiritual engagement in the studio that comes out in the paintings?
Brad Kunkle: I am. This engagement doesn’t usually happen until I have wet paint on the canvas. It’s my own realization of the intention of the work, which is to elevate, and I don’t feel that while I’m sitting in front of the computer working on compositions. It’s a moment of disconnecting from the technological world and engaging solely with my imagination and raw materials. It’s a meditation for me. It’s my escape. The music I listen to, or silence in the room, is important because it feeds the mood I am painting. I used to listen to talk shows or NPR while I worked, but I can’t do this lately because I realize I am listening to nothing. I am focused so much on each mark I am making that background noise becomes just that: noise. Gilding for me is always a special experience. I often feel that the work doesn’t come alive until it’s gilded. Even in some small way.
View more of Brad Kunkle’s exquisite paintings on his website.
The Metalheads series is the second by painter and art professor, Dr. Michael Pearce.
Michael Pearce PhD MFA is Associate Professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, where he teaches figurative painting and drawing. Pearce also organizes the Representational Art Conferences.
His first column for Combustus was the widely-read “What’s On Dino Vall’s Mind?“
But Dr. Pearce was first introduced to Combustus readers when he was interviewed along with British philosopher, Roger Scruton for the three-part series, “Why Beauty Matters.”