A Tireless PURSUIT

Article excerpt

Shanna Kunz finds quiet beauty in landscapes of the West

A CONFLUENCE of challenging circumstances surged over painter Shanna Kunz's life a few years back. The stumbling economy, the end of her first marriage, and other difficult issues coincided to leave her standing waist-deep in question marks. Should she continue pushing on with what had been a successful and growing career as a landscape artist? Or should she shuffle the cards and pull out plan B, whatever that might be?

"Things got really hard, and I was at a turning point as to whether to keep on this [artistic] journey. I made a huge, door-die decision," she relates, sitting in the kitchen of her 1918 Arts and Crafts-style bungalow in Ogden, UT, just a stone's throw from where she was born.

The 48-year-old artist is quiet for a moment, remembering that turning point in herlife as she gazes out the kitchen window at the mountain peaks just east of Ogden. Downstairs in the cozy basement-turnedstudio, four paintings from a current series await her attention. They are testament to the commitment she made two years ago: She swallowed her doubts and applied to take part in the juried, three-month-long Celebration of Fine Art, a festival in Scottsdale, AZ, where artists set up working studios that are open to the public It was a decision that changed her life.

LONG BEFORE Kunz had any notion of becoming an artist, it was clear that the natural world would always be a central part of her life. Her father worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and the family spent as much time camping and fly-fishing as possible. Moving every 18 months until Shanna was 16, they lived in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, expanding their experience of mountains, lakes, and forests with each new place. When her father's job landed them in urban settings in Delaware and San Francisco, museums - both history and art- became the family's territory to explore.

"Whenever we were living far away from Utah, my parents made it like a vacation. Every weekend we'd go somewhere, and we'd always visit museums," Kunz recalls. "We got to see more than most people do." As a result she developed a passion for history and art, as well as mountains and woods.

Living in Utah again as a teen, Kunz finished high school, studied business at Weber State College in Ogden, married young, and had two children. At age 29 she took her first watercolor painting class. "I picked up a paintbrush and I knew. I called my mom and said, ? know what I want to be when I grow up]'" she recounts, laughing. Working in the uncompromising medium of watercolor - which she did for 10 years before switching primarily to oils - was excellent training for learning to plan compositions and make good decisions before beginning a painting, she notes.

After four years of self-teaching and painting "obsessively," as she puts it, Kunz realized she needed more professional instruction. "I knew that if I wanted to paint the way I envisioned, I needed to go back to school," she says. She enrolled in a fine-art program at Utah State University, focusing on the figure in drawing and painting. She loved portraying the human form, yet once again it was her own selfdirected study that changed her path. The new direction led to landscape painting and eventually to her tonalist style with its contemplative, atmospheric feel.

Every two weeks while in college, Kunz would go to the school library and pull out a stack of art books. She would take them home and pour through them in her own personal program of art history study. In this way she stumbled upon the paintings of George Inness, which led her to three American landscape painters in particular - Dwight W. Tryon, John Henry Twachtman, and James Whistler - whose work caught her eye. "They were all quiet, minimalist, subtle painters," she observes. By the end of her third year at Utah State, she was painting landscapes. And she never looked back.

"Studying art history was absolutely instrumental," she affirms. …