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

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
― Pablo Picasso


When my daughter was about 12 years old, she came out to stay with me on the East Coast. She brought a book she had made. It was “How much my Dad has given me.” She gave me credit for inspiring her, for showing her how to make a life, for loving her and for always caring. I was in tears reading it. Thank you, Ashlyn.

At 23, she spent a year dying of leukemia. She was 6 days short of a year after diagnosis when she passed away. She lost the ability to concentrate long enough to read. Writing was extremely painful. When not painful, pain meds made it very hard to find any focus. She took photographs, on walks around the hospital grounds. Pieces of the world, captured by an artistic soul, small moments of sharing, with her, her view of the universe.



When Ashlyn was 19, I gave her a simple silver bracelet. On the outside it said, “When I let go of what I am…”, and on the inside, “I become what I might be.” Shortly after she passed away, I found out it was a treasured possession, that she had worn it all the time. It was bent a bit and well worn. It had meant a lot to her. Way beyond what I was aware of. Like when she was 12 and gave me the book, I was overwhelmed. Overjoyed that it meant so much, deeply saddened by losing her. The last photo I have of my daughter before she went back into the hospital the final time is a silhouette against the night sky and the ocean, as she took a picture with her iphone.



She managed to hit me hard emotionally by her actions, especially hard once she was gone. I didn’t know she loved and wore the bracelet until after her death, I had not noticed it on her wrist. The last year of her life I spent more time with her than most of the five years before that, but she was wearing no jewelry. She manages to impact me emotionally with the fact of her wearing it, similar to that book she gave me at age 12, which floored me. I just got blind-sided by the deep well of emotion – gratefulness that I was able to be there for her and be part of her life and a huge despair and grief that I could not communicate more and be present more for her than I was… The bracelet was perhaps the ultimate. I had no idea it meant anything to her.

Bracelet and Beads


— spence


To a friend who got hit with the worst news

My daughter could not talk on the phone.
She had fought leukemia for a year and was about to find
out her body had lost.

We didn’t know that yet (though I was very afraid)
But I did know I loved her.

And I wrote her (in text) then what I write here for you.
Because I find it to be true.

This life you have now,
that’s not all there is.
You will leave this body
behind someday.
You will remain.
And you will still be.
You the being who is my daughter do not die.
I will always love and cherish you, whether I leave this
existence first or you do.

it’s not a win or lose battle against your cancer.
You will still exist and you will still be
loved no matter the outcome.
love, –dad

Let me know when you have read that message
above – that one is important. Love, –dad

Reply: I read it.    smiley

Love you. –dad

Reply: Love you too.

Text to Ash


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.


No Words At First, Just Images and Adab…


“The demanding memory that comes to you of itself…”
from Frank Herbert’s Dune


I bought a book by a father who lost his eighteen-year-old daughter to cancer.  The concept I had of the book from reviews of it was a collection of memories of the girl, a relating of the process of searching for a cure and a log of how the two on them approached and handled the idea of her dying and how they dealt ultimately with knowing she was going to pass away.  There was mention of artwork and poetry and healing, at least in my imagination.

It was not the book I thought it would be, when it arrived, not the book I needed.  Not a bad book.  I am just in a state where I had very explicite expectations and the desperate need for a particular book, a book this was not.  And I’m not in a place to accept the difference, to accept a book that isn’t pretty much exactly that.   That book, I think I may have to write for myself.

That’s how I started painting.

I always had the need to draw on paper, to capture visual memory and visual creation.  tBut these drawings were small drawings, not ambitious works.  I started painting when I began making things that I would want to hang on my wall.  I was in high school, had no money, couldn’t afford posters.  I painted images I wanted to see, visions that would inspire, enliven my world, create a sense of wonder and awe and that ethereal sense of beauty.

Now we come to writing.  I’m trying to capture what I was hoping to find, what I had expectations to find,  and then write that book.

Part of that capture is “ADAB”, the memory that comes of itself and demands attention and cognizance.

Finding the memories that are important to write about, that capture a word picture of who this woman, my daughter, was.  Why she was who she was. The stubbornness and strength of purpose and character that both helped her live beyond where the disease should have managed to kill her and ultimately helped her reach a place of peace when that life was no longer possible.

Part of that is working through images.

My images, the pictures I took of the “wall of IVs” when she was 42 days in ICU and induced coma and survived.  The memory images of her gaining strength through March and April and May.  Pictures, photographs of her at her birthday in 2010, 24 years old and beginning to look like a survivor, a cancer survivor.  Memories of November, when one side of her face was paralyzed and she was wearing a headband to cover the frightening shunt scar in her scalp.  The shunt that allowed chemo drugs to be dosed three times a week to kill leukemic cells hiding in her brain…  That was when the darkness started to climb back in, I can feel the shadows.  The frailty in December, the unbelievable surgical incision, literally opened up across the belly and ravaged to get a couple more weeks of life (which we did not know, she did not yet know… There was still hope there…).

Other’s images, especially Picasso – at nineteen his best friend kills himself in despair over a woman, and Picasso is devastated.  He works it out in the Blue Period, in images that are timeless.   Picasso’s “Evocation” , “La Vie”

burial of Casagemas La Vie

I want to paint my daughter as she was in my memory as baby, as that small chest rising and falling in a crib, as that child exultant,  riding without training wheels.

I want to paint her as she flowered into a vibrant young woman, learning to dream and to love.  I want to paint the devastation and joy of those first 42 days in ICU hell.  The ravaging leukemia created on her body, the frailness and fragility come on her suddenly.  The life force beneath forcing healing despite impossible adversary. Capture the paralysis on one side of her face, contrasted with the brilliant beauty that was there just before, and was still there, if you knew how to look.

That knowing how to look, that’s essential – showing that in a painting, giving that awareness to the person seeing it, someone who didn’t know Ash.  Knowing both what you see in the result of disease, what changes in the nature of the person physically, and seeing beneath that to the person within.  To both the qualities that are beauty and the pattern that is/was there in beauty, physical beauty, before.

People ARE beautiful in the forms that result from their lives – they lose that un-formed-ness I see in models – they are beautiful, but no character, no life in face or body.  These paintings should show both that outer form, the beauty hit by an adversary, but still there, and the inner strength and struggle of life to stay.  If I could find that, that would be something. Something to treasure.  I can feel the tears streaming blurring already.

I saw that.  That frailness and ethereal release in the last few days, when she knew she would not survive this.  A calm acceptance and treasure of each moment.

I promised Ashley I would paint sunsets from the pictures she took off the Redondo Beach Pier, and I will do that too.  But these images, that’s important too.


an urn for my daughter…

My daughter let go of life 3 January 2011. She was diagnosed with AMML (Leukemia) in January 2010. She stepped from chemo treatment to chemo treatment, hoping for cured, a very very tough journey that finally ended for her. I wanted a container for her ashes that reflected her life, the life in her, and the loss I have at her passing on…


ashley urn 01


This design started from a plate Ashley painted in Colorado in 1996 (aged 10 years). One of those creative kid things to do, and which over the years and many moves, I managed to keep safe and unbroken. Now it just seems so completely irreplaceable…


ash plate 1996


The urn I found is stainless steel with a copper finish. The shape is classic, perfect. Given time or a wheel and kiln I might have tried a pottery urn, glazed and fired. But this may be better. It will age, but it will always be a gift to my daughter. Not the last – there is the ongoing gift of cherishing her memory and speaking of her as the world continues to turn and she finds her new role in the universe.


ashley urn 02


ash urn 03



Ashley Lyn, you are loved and you are missed…

leaf at st josephs by ashley lyn
Leaf at St. Joseph’s Hospital by Ashley Lyn Munsinger

When Ashley was born, on a bright day in July,
her nickname was immediately “Bug,”
as in “cute as a bug.”

I went in to watch her sleep in her crib almost every night after we brought her home.
I watched her very small chest rise and fall.
That was a miracle.

Having this child meant being completely vulnerable to the whims of the universe.

I cast hope out into the future.
I get to watch over her and love her, forever.

When she was about three Ashley got quieter and quieter over several days.
Her doctor said she had pneumonia
and was hours from needing admittance to a hospital.

She got better.
But she scared me.

She rode her bike without training wheels in Lake View Terrace, CA.
She helped me build a coffee table in Boulder CO.
She sledded down the hill with our dog Samantha at the house in Milford MA.

She was golden blonde,
and warmth.

She faded the winter she spent in Massachusetts,
so I sent her back to California.

Ashley traveled through Europe when she was fifteen.
She determined that Corfu was her favorite place on the planet.
She talked about that trip for years…

“When I was in France…”

Ashley studied International Business in New York City
She found she hated it.
She discovered space and color and form and balance and function.
She studied Interior Design, and she found she loved it.

She got quiet once again, this time over several months.
She was admitted to the hospital and we got word that she had leukemia.

By the time I got across the country from Boston to Los Angeles,
Ashley was on a ventilator and could no longer speak.

All of us,
all of you,
family and friends,
came together
and somehow we got her through the worst two months ever.

At the lowest point in that February I was holding Ash’s hand,
feeling the warmth of her still presence,
accepting each moment as a gift.

That diagnosis
and then that reality,
cancer patient,
Ash just accepted.

She looked ahead with true courage at each point in her journey
and asked,
“What next?”

Ashley knew she was dying that last week.
She found
the rare gift
in that
rather than the despair of it,
that ending.

I tried to find everything I needed to say to her, as her dad, as someone responsible for her and to her.
I came close enough.

She managed a death
at peace
and without despair or anxiety.

Her passing on was with eyes wide open.
She said “It’s over…”
and she meant this life, this struggle.

And then she asked
“What’s next?”
and she went on.

An expansion of being, rather than in any way diminished.

This breath holds the spirit to the body.

And so it was.
Ash let go
and the breath stopped.

ash at her birthday
July 2nd 1986 – 3rd January 2011

I will always miss her presence here.

koi pond by Ashley Lyn
Koi Pond at St. Joseph’s Hospital by Ashley Lyn Munsinger