Interview With Anita Kunz
Anita Kunz’s has illustrated playful and smart concepts for the covers of magazines like “The New Yorker,” “Time,” among others. In her fine art, she explores themes of the ever-shifting balances in life and nature. Her style of painting emulates work created during the Renaissance Movement, but always with a modern twist. What is your philosophy on humor in art?
Well, I do try and tackle fairly serious subject matter, so sometimes it becomes a bit overwhelming. Humor is sometimes a good way to diffuse certain ideas and make a concept more palatable. If you don't laugh, you cry!
Anita Kunz/Gallery House
Would you describe yourself as an animal lover?
Yes, absolutely. I know that they are sentient creatures and can feel love and pain. And they look to us to care for them. Schopenhauer wrote "Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man". I would agree with that. Also, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Ghandi.
What do you enjoy about blurring human with animal imagery?
Well, we do share the planet with them. And taking the idea further, we actually share a significant amount of genetic material with them, so we are intimately linked. If you look at embryos of different species and look at human embryos, they are strikingly similar.
What is your stance on the protection of endangered species?
How can it be anything but a big “yes” for the protection of endangered species? Once they are gone, they are gone forever, and we will have done irreparable damage to ecosystems we can't even comprehend.
Do you ever paint in natural settings?
No, I paint in my studio. I have enough trouble keeping dog and cat hair out of my paint! I don't want to have to deal with bugs too!
Did you grow up going to zoo's or places where there were a lot of animals to observe?
I always found zoos to be very sad. These glorious beasts are in cages, and it always upsets me. I do love nature and the wilderness, however. We have a summer home on a lake in the Canadian North, and I love seeing moose and wolf tracks! But I always seem to miss actually seeing the animals themselves. They are wise to stay away from humans.
Why do you find painting nudes appealing?
Well, the truth is that I never seem to know how to dress my figures! And, I want them to have more of a timeless quality, and not refer to a time that would be informed by the particulars of the clothing.
What is your belief on human evolution?
Well, of course I believe the scientific facts and evidence that we have evolved over millennia into what we are now and continue to do so. My favorite quote is from one of my favorite authors, Ian McEwan, who writes about Darwin's Theory of Evolution: “Those five hundred pages deserved only one conclusion: endless and beautiful forms of life, such as you see in a common hedgerow, including exalted beings like ourselves, arose from physical laws, from war of nature, famine and death. This is the grandeur. And a bracing kind of consolation in the brief privilege of consciousness.” And regarding creationism“…what better creation myth? An unimaginable sweep of time, numberless generations spawning by infinitesimal steps complex living beauty out of inert matter, driven on by the blind furies of random mutation, natural selection and environmental change, with the tragedy of forms continually dying, and lately the wonder of minds emerging and with them morality, love, art, cities -and the unprecedented bonus of this story happening to be demonstrably true.” This is to me profound and beautiful.
What is an important lesson you learned early in your painting career?
Well, I think that I learned that I had to pay my dues and work hard. And that's what I tell students today… the harder you work, the better you'll get. Malcolm Gladwell tells us that ten thousand hours of work toward a particular goal will result in success (I'm paraphrasing).
What master artist do you find most inspiring?
My favorite all time artist has to be my dear friend, Ralph Steadman. He gained fame with his co-conspirator, Hunter S Thompson for their “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” work, but I love Ralph more for his world view which is about compassion for other living creatures.
What is the story behind the clinging baby in your painting "Panther"?
That painting was about the ferocity of motherhood and another idea that relates to the story of our intimate connections with animals.