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

"What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."
― Edward Hopper


This amaryllis stayed mostly dormant for almost three months before finally sending forth blooms. The flowers finally arrived in late January. I saw them in the dim light in the kitchen, isolated on the black granite countertop, grabbed my Fuji 35mm f1.4 – still better I think than the newer f2 version – and took the photograph above and the one below. The next day the flowers were fully opened and the photograph no longer possible. Such a fleeting moment, but the delicacy of the petals and the edge dramatically in focus works I think.


New Work:: "Butterfly Beach"

Butterfly Beach, acrylic on canvas, ©2012 by Spence Munsinger




New Work:: "Off State Street"

Off State Street, acrylic on canvas, 30




New Work:: "Boards by the Path"

painting, Boards by the Path, acrylic on canvas, ©2012 by Spence Munsinger




Artist Statement, Draft, Work in Progress – about sunsets series

This is a series of 105 images. They are drawn from distance.

The distance between warm sun and a freezing blast of winter.
The distance of time and of experience.
The distance between father and daughter.
The distance between representative and abstract.
The actual distance in space.
The distance between alive and warm and cold and gone.

The painting series was begun as a request from my daughter. She wanted a painting. She lived in California, in the South Beach area of Los Angeles. I asked her to take a sunset picture. I painted other paintings. The photographs did not arrive.

I found symbolic memories. A photo of wind-blown grass. A weathered staircase ascending and descending a hill, the hillside dropping to the Pacific Coast. A photo of an umbrella in sand across distance. This was the people, shading themselves from the heat of the sun, running out into the cold Pacific and then back to shade. And a photo of the sky. The brilliant colors, the reflections across the water of the sunset.

I grew up on the California coast, in San Diego. I watched sunset after sunset, in the heat of summer evening, in the crisp cool of winter afternoons. I imprinted the warmth and the impact of color.

I painted the first sunset. I painted it in the beginnings of winter, the first chills in the air. I painted through dark evenings, in a basement studio with a vista of radiator pipes and the endless low rumble of an oil furnace staving off chill temperatures in the 20’s.

I painted.

I painted finding a path between the crisp reference image photographs provided and the abstract intensity of emotion and color. I painted for a daughter who was distant in space, still present in the place of my memory. I painted in longing for warmth and light.

I sent the painting to my daughter. I painted another sunset, this one more pointedly from my memories of living in a beach town, referenced again against the crisp concise frame of photographs. I could feel the emotion in the light and the color, the distance between New England and the coast of California. I could feel the distance between myself and my daughter. I could also feel the shared experiences we have.

I started painting in Los Angeles at about age 16. I had drawn and painted and created all of my life, but not focused. I painted from age 16 to age 22, and then stopped. Cold. I have photographs of people in my life then, of walls with early oil paintings hanging on them, simple instructive still lives, and figure studies. I simply stopped from 1982 through 2003.

I told my daughter that she didn’t have to focus on four years of college and try to wrap up the path of a life immediately. That life was a journey, long if you are lucky, but not guaranteed. No need to hurry through it, let it develop.

In 2003 I went out to California to visit my daughter. We drove from Los Angeles down to Del Mar and to La Jolla, and walked the route I had walked as a child to the beach, down to the bottom of the hill, cutting through to Pacific Coast Highway, across the traffic, down the steep hills to the railroad tracks, and then down to the expanse of sand. I walked with her through my elementary school, which had and still has an ocean view. We had breakfast on a patio overlooking PCH with the beach and ocean beyond, with pop art animals and dogs allowed at the tables. I walked with her the route my dad, my stepmother and my baby sister walked when I was 14, down to La Jolla Shores. I showed her the tidepools I used to wade in along the rocks.

I came back, and I was unable to talk from the emotional hit that distance in space from my daughter and in time from both her and from my childhood brought.

I went to look for what the hell I was supposed to be doing this life.

I bought oils and brushes.  I found the class I had taken in drawing all those years ago was now on DVD.  I took it again, recalling from the motion of charcoal all that I had left behind.  I sat at a drawing horse and sketched, I recovered life drawing skills. I came back to where I had left off at UCLA and then private art instruction. I started painting. I resumed painting.

In the intervening years I had drawn and sketched projects for clients, photographed family events and created a woodworking portfolio. I had done graphic design for several short-lived partnerships, and carefully hung the paintings I had done in the late seventies and early eighties where I could see them.  I had discovered I was a writer.  I wrote between 1987 and 2001, writing to get better. I did get much better,but it never gelled, it never felt like I was a part of it. It was forced.

Painting is not. I show up, I stand before the canvas and I trust the muses to show up to. And they do so.

In 2007 I sent my daughter sunset #1. In 2011, on January 3rd after a year-long battle with leukemia, Ashley Lyn passed away. So now there is that distance. The distance between life and the beyond-life that is hers, now.

The paintings hold that distance between abstract and realism. If you move close, the paint dissolves into motion and texture and gesture. Life, held close dissolves into motion and chaos, in distance there appears a sense of the whole.

The painting should NOT be a literal presentation of reality – certainly not photographic – a photograph is a drawing-by-light, drawing by controlled-and-engineered-reflection-of-light, an abstraction of reality, missing motion and limited in scope by frame of view. A painting is an abstraction of light, movement, color, perspective and emotional and aesthetic impact. It can add an intangible and intuitive motion/emotion, an aesthetic harmony that communicates to a depth a straight representation misses.

Life should not be lived linearly either.


That’s what I have so far. Work in progress.


thoughts on sunsets

la jolla sunset

There is no moment of more intense color and beauty than a sunset in California. The light is perfect for just that moment and then changes and that instant is gone.

SUNSETS are a synthesis of that moment. You come up over the hill, and you see a moment of sunset, you feel an inner awe at the color and the intensity, you try to hold time still, to grab for the camera, to hold it in your mind. The sun sinks and the light changes and that supreme aesthetic, that moment you found resonant is gone.

In that moment of trying to hold and encompass, you widen the senses, to grab the panorama. Instead of concentrating on the colors and center and light over the ocean, you widen your attention and focus. The sunset is clear, but you also try to hold the periphery – road, sand, sidewalk, trees, silhouettes of buildings, the bright light cascading across, the color tinges from the experience. All of that.

If I painted photographically, the scene would look crystal clear. You would see the clarity of each item or the calculated blur. Take a photograph of a sunset – it will remind you of the memory of that, but it won’t do more than suggest the experience.

That moment of focus, of seeing the center and widening your awareness and consciousness to try and include the whole scene and experience and memory – that’s what these are.

Expressionism, abstract, but with reference to representation and form and space.

My growing up was sunsets. I was born in Berkeley, California. Almost immediately I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, in Eugene, Oregon, and in Urbana, Illinois. At the age of seven I moved from the flat anonymous suburbs of Illinois, where the highest elevation was a pile of dirt left on the vacant land at the edge of the subdivision, to Del Mar, California, a town on the coast of California north of San Diego.

I used to wake up at 5:00 AM, to cold light and fog, and sneak out across the back deck, down the path to the carport, out the driveway, down the hill to the path through to Pacific Coast Highway, dart across 101, out to the bluffs, down across the railway tracks, down stairs or path or rough trails in iceplant to the sandstone bluff and then the sand – clear expanses of endless sand stretching in my imagination north to Canada, south to the Chilean coast.

Early morning almost always meant fog, burning off through the day.


9th Street


To paint the experience of a sunset.

A sunset is that expansion of perception and focus, widened to perceive the sunset, that aesthetic form, and as wide a focus of perception around and beyond that as possible in an effort to freeze the moment and capture a full sense of it.

That effort moves toward the realization of an ecstatic perceptive experience – and as a visually oriented being (can you tell?) I try to become part of that experience – that’s the sunset I want to communicate. Sunsets actually. This is the product of watching and falling in love all over again with the sun through clouds and sky descending to the ocean to the west. I hope it comes through.

A painting should be a communication, profound and deep at best, to the core of the spirit.

The ultimate sunset would be a resonance of the perceptions I experience in seeing the original, experiencing the original – sight is easy, that’s direct reflected light and accuracy of perception – but that exact reflection, that’s not the experience. The artist adds and subtracts to bring about a communication of experience and vision.

So what is my sunset? It is a viewpoint of experience hitting harmony and gestural movement of paint and illusion of form and space, non-specific enough to invite the placing of form and space by the audience, but clear enough to direct the senses and the viewpoint into my world at that moment. Like music, it is visceral, felt communication, there should be an element of ecstatic experience, transcendence.

Rothko said better to tell less than more, and reduced his elements to more and more simplicity.

If I take a picture to capture an aesthetic moment – that simple photograph, without context and explanation, falls short in bring across that experience to someone else seeing it separately – my intention in painting is to bring about that additional communication of context and viewpoint – as if I explained vividly the entire context and experience. Art has the ability to transcend being a literal visual experience and to become much more, magical, and communicate experience in full.

To freeze a moment of aesthetic in time, to hold it and express that reaching to hold it in the mind in time, that exultation at the beauty and then that realization that it will be gone, changed, and that wishing to hold the experience. That’s the intention behind the images in this series.


4th Street


The contrast between New England and the West Coast of California…

Looking at DelMar in Google Earth – a tremendous feeling of nostalgia, longing, sorrow and loss for something that at the time was just – there. Uprooted from Illinois, planted in California, great, there’s a beach, and a lifestyle unapproachable anywhere else – an amazing childhood environment, both in time and in space. But it was just there. I was awed by the sunsets despite that lack of context. I am awed by the sunsets.

I am an ex-pat, an expatriate. There is a tension is finding sunsets to express from a West Coast view of the world, while living in New England. This sense of distance, of separation, and the bridging of that, is part of this series. The warmth and glow of these images is emotionally acute when there is a fresh 6′ snowfall outside the window and a temperature of 17 degrees.

Time is a constant acquiring of new experience from one look at it. And an immense abyss of loss ongoing and continuous from a different viewpoint.

Sunsets are archetypal, generalized through simplified form – details picked up and suggested to the viewer through gestures in paint. Surface texture, gestural, painterly, form and color all working toward a generalized and slightly abstracted idea of a sunset. Order from initial chaos. Texture and form that pulls to the surface, but a whole that suggests progression into space.

Demonstrating the ethereal beauty of a sunset and through that both the timelessness in that moment as spiritual and ephemeral in the effort to hold it still and fail, showing it as failed.


4th Street


— spence