Emerging Artists | Justin Kunz

The power of the human figure

Justin Kunz, Emerald Bay, oil, 60 x 48.

Justin Kunz, Emerald Bay, oil, 60 x 48.

This story was featured in the August 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

Even though he has been a full-time professional artist for a number of years now, Justin Kunz continues to be amazed that oil paint can be shaped into lifelike portrayals of the human form while still looking and feeling like paint. The figure has been Kunz’s subject matter of choice since he was 13 years old and drew superheroes from comic books. The genre has the potential to evoke a powerful range of responses in him—aesthetic, emotional, narrative, and conceptual. But if one of his paintings turns out too detailed or photorealistic, without an 
element of mystery, Kunz is disappointed. “I feel like I’ve missed the mark—that space between reality and illusion where the artist’s hand becomes apparent, and we are given a glimpse of a world we cannot see any other way,” he says.

The judges for this year’s Portrait Society of America competition certainly didn’t think Kunz missed the mark when they gave him a top award for a sensitive portrait of a mother and her child. Based in Utah, the artist earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at Brigham Young University and then received a master’s at California’s Laguna College of Art and Design, where he studied with Jeremy Lipking and Joseph Todorovitch. But Kunz brings his own brand of painterly realism to the figurative genre, seamlessly incorporating elements from various art movements, including traces of impressionism, surrealism, and abstraction.

While he is an award-winning portrait painter, Kunz is also a masterful painter of complex, multifigure pieces, some of which are based on Bible passages. Others, like EMERALD BAY, offer good examples of his take on contemporary subject matter. The narrative work captures his wife, three of his four children, and some family friends on a private beach in Southern California. “The multifigure pieces deal with human relationships, particularly families and our relationships to society,” Kunz says. “The settings and implied narratives are often adaptations of scenes from my own memory, dreams, or imagination, especially those moments when we experience a brush with the infinite.” 
—Bonnie Gangelhoff

Deseret Book
, Salt Lake City, UT.

Featured in the August 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art August 2015 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

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