Paintings from Sunset Series by Spence Munsinger, Color Field + Blank White Canvas + Realism + Contemporary Abstract Art, original paintings for sale

"I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move. ”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

butterfly girl

Bantam Books put out a paper-bound book called “The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta” in 1975. My original copy of the book is long gone. I remember his paintings vividly, from the covers of the Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan series and the John Carter of Mars books, and from this paperback art book.

One of the drawings, three pages in, on the Introduction page, was a quick sketch. I’ve never seen it in any other publication. I copied it from the book to hang above my desk, in ink on newsprint, and it did hang there for at least a decade. In some move or another, the drawing disappeared.

I’d thought about it. I found a copy of the original book on ebay, purchased it. The drawing means mystery, enigma, balance, life, simplicity of line and form. It is one piece of art I would not want to be without.

butterfly girl


— spence


balance and the edge of creativity


I’ve been thinking about the process of painting. I’m defining the sunset series, refining the words that describe why sunsets and where that comes from. I’m also looking for the words to explain and express and place myself as an artist.


sunset #4


Creativity is a balance, a choosing of alternate paths of action and thought. An intuitive sense of balance and motion, like listening to musical rhythm and counterpoint, harmony and backbeat. I sense color and emotional resonances from form and color in a particular place on a canvas, relate that to the push and the pull of space across that two dimensional surface, that transforming of planes into space and motion. From that I listen to what might be. Maybe several might-be’s. I choose.

That choice, that’s a knowing choice, with a result that I start measuring and judging the effect – what does that color and the form it takes, the plane it forms, affect in the painting? What motion does it create? What movement in the space of the canvas? What vibration? And what should happen next? And I start finding the next might-be’s.

It’s an aesthetic judgment and sense, knowing the materials and the tools, the surface and what is possible, drawing on experience, on training, and on a body of works.

Wolf Kahn wrote that art is the progression of an artist’s vision through his works, that each work reflects a progress. Mark Rothko wrote that each picture is a set of problems to be resolved. Hans Hofmann wrote that fine art is emotional resonance, like music.


wolf kahn


I read an article tonight by Johann Hari. He wrote of his experiences with a drug, a smart drug, Provigil. It treats narcolepsy, and given to someone without that condition, it stimulates alertness and from what Johann describes a feeling of effortless creativity and intelligence. It sounded so good.




If only intelligence were so easy. Before you run out a get an illicit supply of Provigil, let me remind you that the brain is a precisely equilibrated machine. Even drugs that don’t appear to have any negative side-effects – who wouldn’t want a more focused brain? – can actually have deleterious consequences.

In this case, the tradeoff involves creativity. Some of my friends who relied on crushed Ritalin during college used to joke about how the drugs were great for late-night cramming sessions, but that they seemed to suppress any kind of originality. In other words, increased focus came at the expense of the imagination. It makes perfect sense that such a cognitive trade-off would exist. Paying attention to a particular task – like writing an article – requires the brain to ignore all sorts of seemingly unrelated thoughts and stimuli bubbling up from below.

This hit home hard. Sometimes painting is an exercise in effort.

Like running. You feel tired and out of it and each step is an effort, and you get tied up in that heavy exhausted feeling. Often if you persist, that blows off and running becomes the joy it can be. Sometimes that heavy drudgery is all you are going to get this time through.




When painting clicks it’s like dancing, following the motions, the actions, a precision you can feel and a rightness to all of it that is extraordinary. It’s a balancing act between effort and no-thought. You have to balance between the effortless knowing of what to do next and the decisions and materials and running evaluation of where the work is moving to.

Eventually I’ll dislike something on the canvas. I’ll back away from it for awhile. Rarely, I’ll back it out, and continue. Usually, that critical balance has been lost. What I see as wrong won’t be wrong at a different time. It will at worst be a jumping off point and at best it was actually right, just the focus had been lost.


sunset #2


That creative balance would be impossible for me to achieve in a narrowed and restricted focus. The wider the net cast, the broader the attention span and awareness of now the deeper the creative impulses are. The price is that it isn’t always easy. But, it wasn’t meant to be.

— spence

light reflected


“One must observe nature by means of the light reflected from objects, rather than be concerned with the tangible existence of the objects themselves.”

From “Search for the Real” a collection of writings by and about Hans Hofmann, published in 1948. This statement is a Zen koan for an artist, at least for me. A koan won’t work for every student, only for the one for whom it is truth and who needs that viewpoint or struggle for viewpoint to reach the next epiphany. You may not find this a tool for viewing color and form separately and changed. I do.

I found this book as a used copy, published by MIT Press in 1967, originally compiled and written at the occasion of Hans Hofmann’s retrospective. He taught Wolf Kahn, and I wanted to trace some of that history and get an idea of the foundations from which Kahn creates and conceives color.


hans hofmann


— spence


artist's statement (0001.4)


coffee avatar


There is this standard thing an artist is asked to come up with, a piece of writing, basically an ad blurb peeking inside the artist’s soul. It is to bring the audience to a point of view from which they can see the work with some understanding of the process, the artist, the intention behind the work.

A leaping off point.

I paint to put interesting things on my walls. Really. I create too much stuff and run out of wall space and sell it. Nothing more to see here, move along…

There is more to it than that. Every time I come to having to state it though I am torn. The simplicity in that statement, “I paint to put interesting things on my walls” – it is true; it’s honest. The key is “interesting things.” If the work is aesthetic, if it creates an emotional reaction, it is interesting. If the work is interesting, hits that aesthetic note, causes a reaction in the viewer, then I have followed through. I’ve kept my promise.

That aesthetic note, wavelength, that tension between beauty and communication – that’s tricky stuff. If the work hits an aesthetic wavelength, you can paint anything at all. Its like using a tuning fork to check for sympathetic resonance, resonance with the spirit. Beauty has a physical impact, a resonance, it grabs attention and holds it. That’s my first intention. The work has to be damn aesthetic. Pretty as hell.

I start with an idea of an image to be brought together and intimately connected with that image an emotion, a feeling I want the painting to communicate. The warmth of the sand on the beach, the grittiness, the cool feeling of the breeze, and the emotion of – what? A feeling of space and expansion, from that a joy at life? Or – the contrast of the warmth of the sand and the space along the edge of the ocean with loss of someone loved – that tension instead. That image and the emotion, the feeling that should resonate from the canvas, is the beginning.

There is an image of a moment in time and a perception of emotion connected to that time. The softness of skin, the texture of hair, the soft sound of a voice… The roughness and pattern of a piece of pottery. There is a moment and an emotion, and how the moment is portrayed, how the image is brought together is to communicate and bring across that feeling.

I love canvas. I love the texture, the brilliance of the white before it is touched, it is such a timeless surface.

When I work with paint on canvas, I feel the presence of all of the artists who worked before. I can feel the courage it took, to be willing to weather the uncertainty, the doubt, the fear that it is just not good enough, and the kindling of courage, the spark and following a method that brings about a result that causes me to be find I disbelieve that I created this.

I can recall all the decisions, and the ones that put me in mystery and in awe of the whole process are the ones that were instinctive and sure, made from an inner knowing. Knowledge and certainty born of action in the moment of creation. The kind of decision making that can’t be forced consciously.

It can’t be taught directly. It can be brought into being through a familiarity with techniques and tools to where they aren’t distracting, and through the practice of painting itself. And learning to listen to the soft whisper of where the paint wants to go…

For a long time a painting on the wall was a locus of being human. No other being we know of in this universe hangs a representation of space up as part of life. From drawing on cave walls to honoring our dead to creating governments and taxes, all basic to being human.

There is something in expression through paint and canvas that can’t be duplicated by computer to printer to ink. A visceral element in the texture, the scale of the surface, the yielding, even the three dimensionality.

These aren’t a spray of dots by machine, they don’t approximate colors through software, this is pure pigment, pure human perception and light wavelengths. There’s the music in the studio, the vision of the artist, the surface and the paint and the tools, and the result is a completely unique communication.

Art has impact. It changes lives, it anchors our spirit, it engages the soul. You give it life, I put it there, but for each person it is different.

A picture is not thought out
and settled beforehand.

While it is being done it changes
as one’s thoughts change.

And when it is finished,
it still goes on changing,
according to the
state of mind of whoever is looking at it.

A picture live a life
like a living creature,
undergoing the changes imposed on us
by our life from day to day.

[Pablo Picasso]

That covers it.


sunset in progress



— spence


do you see?


An art museum is school, place of worship, archaeological dig, the burial place of my ancestors, to me. I am looking for precedent, for a lesson in the language of art. It’s like a writer reading – a part of me is always looking at HOW the effect was achieved and recreating the steps for myself, at least imagining materials, technique, what additional knowledge I would need to create a sentence like that one.

The digital images I take in a museum are the same as I would take to capture a thread of a visual thought. I take a Canon 30D and a 24-70mm f2.8L telephoto, a very fast (grabs great images in low light) lens. I’ll take pictures documenting for myself the section of the painting I found revelatory, the pattern in the paint that could be an inspiration or a document of technique.

From the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C…

I was looking for what lines in this figure made it so communicate joy and laughter, what exaggerations, what the sculptor achieved in effect that would be different from what I would do as a painter. In walking around I was struck by the change in the flow of the figure, and I took pictures to document that impression.

Also from the Hirshhorn…

The shape of the lips, the luminous colors, the style of the figures, the shaping and toning, the impact this had as I walked up the stairs and it came into view (this is large, perhaps 6 feet high x 8 feet wide).

I’m an artist. I love this stuff. I’m not there in any museum to be able to cross off – "OK, check, saw Picasso’s Night Fishing at Antibes".

In the Queens, N.Y. annex of MOMA, walking into a room and finding Night Fishing there, it is huge, covering most of the far wall. The paint is thin, this was 1939 or so, things must have been getting tough in France, very dark, and the painting communicates this. I took photos across the surface, trying to capture how transparent Picasso had left the work, the drips across the surface, the sketches still visible. It was a revelation in that what I saw was detail by detail thin, washed, scratched out, and then as a whole just beautiful and very effective. It’s luminous and perfect in the books and there also just isn’t a sense of the impact of the size (7 feet high by 11 feet wide).

night fishing

I’m looking for threads I can use, and refer back to in my own work. What made this communicate, what causes it to be great, to have lasting impact?

Ron Mueck, an Australian sculptor. Brilliant work.

big manhead

The Hirshhorn had Big Man in a corner on the basement floor – you come around the corner and there is this enormous naked middle-aged and rather pissed-off looking man, the texture of the skin on his knees (eye level) is dead-on, every pore is there. I was stunned.

Many of the works I have photographed I don’t have an artist’s name for, without doing some research. I’m too absorbed in the balancing act of both experiencing the magic and figuring out what caused it to work to really get who actually did it. I do put a camera to my eye, but only to capture a detail or an image I want to work with. Digital SLR’s don’t have a view screen on the back that you can use to frame, you have to bring the viewfinder up to your eye and see the image through the lens. The image on the back is verification of what you captured.

I enjoy watching people look at art. I photograph people and their reaction to a piece, like street photography, only with better lighting.

In the National Museum in Washington, D.C., I photographed this pair of kids – part of a group of about 20, all in bright yellow shirts, herded by a museum guide from room to room. Most with cellphone or small digital cameras.

watching paintings

It was amazing to watch these kids pretty much experience the paintings they were shown through the viewscreens of their cameras. I don’t think they looked for more than a split second directly at the work, and I watched them go as a group from painting to painting… My mouth fell open and I had to photograph it. It was like a performance piece in itself.


— munsinger




I looked through the Hirshhorn collection and found the “oh my” painting listed – Tom Wesselmann, Bedroom Painting No. 38. Really beautiful stuff. .

The laughing woman is Ernst Barlach’s Old Woman Laughing, from 1948.