ROBERT GUNDERMAN: NEVER LET US GO
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
— Carl Sagan
After a series of deployments from the Arctic Circle to the Mojave Desert, Robert Gunderman left the army in the late Eighties and applied to the Otis College of Art & Design where he studied under Ralph Becerra, Joyce Lightbody, and Meg Cranston. “Meg was teaching philosophy and just questioned everyone to think,” recalls Gunderman, who grew up in Seal Beach as the son of an art collecting LA City Fire Chief. “I remember Meg telling me, ‘Bob, the best thing you could do is get thrown out of here.’”
While he avoided expulsion, Gunderman was always pushing against the commodification of his art practice at Otis: when he wasn’t making cubist birdbaths he painted a chalkboard stripe around the campus gallery and wrote the word “Formula” thousands of times while standing with his nose in the gallery corner beside a display of opening refreshments. He also placed a figurative assemblage sculpture with his name atop it and placed the work inside a school bathroom stall, which led to the Fire Department being called. He even painstakingly detailed assassinating (and documenting the killing of) an art dealer who was stealing from him in an early text-based work titled, “Why Aren’t Ill-Mannered Dealers and Directors Beaten, or Even Killed?”
“Everything that was being taught to us was a style, a formula,” says Gunderman, who first started painting while on duty with the Rapid Deployment Force at Fort Bragg. After Otis, Gunderman spent the next quarter century primarily engaging with the art world as a curator, director, and gallery founder—of alternative spaces like FOOD HOUSE, Leak, and ACME—but he was constantly thinking about those spaces from the perspective of a practicing artist. “I was always just trying to champion L.A.,” says Gunderman. “I also just wanted people to loosen up a little.”
In the studio, Gunderman’s oeuvre began with wet-on-wet abstractions reminiscent of Richter’s “Ice” paintings, which evolved into more representational work that encompassed everything from marine life to poodles. His practice took a fateful turn when he and his wife, Sarah, bought a working ranch inside the Los Padres National Forest. Sited on a Condor sanctuary in the Heritage Valley, Rancho del Sapo introduced Gunderman to a limitless subject—in the form of impossible sunsets, rivers, canyons, and valleys teeming with all types of wildlife (from mountain lions and brown bears to “garage spiders” and bumblebees). This rustic mise en scene seamlessly filtered into his unique brand of organic cubism through a synthesized lens of refracted desert light color fields.
“When you see a rainbow from a dry vantage point the brightness of the sun creates a surreal light, and that’s what I’m interested in,” says Gunderman. “Whatever the hyper sensitive biological phenomenon is that causes your mouth to water when you think of a lemon...that’s what I’m trying to get at in my painting.”
Or as David Pagel recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Gunderman’s paintings are slow burns. Each burrows its way into your mind’s eye so gently that you don’t know your consciousness has been infiltrated until you’ve left the exhibition and Gunderman’s compositions start popping into your head. They’re like memories of experiences you’ve never had or uninvited guests whose cockeyed antics have a friendly sense of familiarity.”
For Never Let Us Go opening February 16 at Desert Center | Los Angeles Gunderman works off the concept of the nautical stay to create a literal (and metaphorical) anchor to investigate the scope of his bucolic vista from sea to summit. Landscapes merge with figures that are more concerned with the essences of this cosmos than the representation of it. Within that space garage spiders and seascapes grow genitalia while anthropomorphic suns spout thumbs. Within Gunderman’s twice-washed tableaux these mindspaces grasp at the memory of a place that never was (or perhaps one that never will be). It’s a dark matter feedback loop compressed into a world fleshy pinks and sun-blanched yellows, sea foam greens and robin’s egg blues. In Gunderman’s uncanny valley, these new works are the living (perhaps breathing) abstractions of that ur social media construct #nofilter: “LIKE”-ing is encouraged, but LOOKING is required.
Robert Gunderman (@ranchodelsapo) is an artist who lives and works in Fillmore, California. He studied painting at the Otis College of Art and Design and his work has been exhibited in group shows from LA to London (organized by artist/curators including Adam McEwan and Anne Ayres). Gunderman’s work has also been the subject of numerous solo shows, most recently at there-there in Los Angeles, and in forthcoming shows at Rude Drawing in Silver Lake and Left Field Gallery in San Luis Obispo.