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

wolf kahn and color, rothko


I was searching for something about color and I ran across a statement in a forum, something like “if you want to see how to paints trees find a book by Wolf Kahn”. Further down in that newsgroup, someone else agreed that the was the path to follow.

I wasn’t researching trees, but I was curious – who? Wolf Kahn? Never heard of him. I looked for an example of his work and I was floored. His color work is just enlightening. Transcendent. Bright. Brilliant, and a little mad. His website is a microscopic flash presentation, done through his gallery. Despite that the images are extraordinary. I found a book of his work, ordered it, and when it arrived, I was struck by the evolution of this artist from the fifties through to his recent work. His color theory and the presence and tone of the colors used to create a warm feel or a cold feel, the evolution as you watch his work change and progress – a great colorist, hell, a great painter.


wolf kahn


The change over time in how Wolf Kahn approaches color and the origins of that sense of color and creation of abstraction shows me some methods of using color and of thinking about color that are very close to the conclusions I was reaching for already. And that is just very very cool. It jumpstarts the progression a couple of years or more for me forward.

Wolf Kahn is directly compared with the harmonies ( Sections of a Painting Like Passages in Music) of color in Mark Rothko’s painting. I had never connected with Rothko’s paintings – they didn’t click for me. Bring the color work from Kahn which works for me, subject and form and color, back from his ethereal landscapes to the simpler pure color work Rothko achieved and I see the genius I had not seen before. All of this is along the same path I was already following with color and form and perception of color.

marl rothko

Color as temperature, perception, emotional reaction alone, separate from form.

My first love in painting is color. Bright, brilliant color, color at the edge of what’s real. Stark raving color, actually. Color beyond the pale.


— spence


giving tactile values to retinal impressions


I’ve been reading Mark Rothko’s “An Artist’s Reality”. Rothko wrote this late-thirties, early-forties. He was a teacher, and that shows. It was not published until 2004. It’s a older style of writing than even the 30’s. It’s worth reading.

The writing is a high level look at art and purpose and the goal of painting. From this launching point ten years or so later he moved to painting color fields, and you can see from this written work how inevitable that was for him.

color field

This is a high level theory brought into relation to painting as it moved from space created via color (greying to recede, muted to recede) to linear perspective to color used to create mood to impressionism, dropping linear form and using color position, to abstract. It’s fun to read. Rothko thought alot about what he was doing and where he was intending it to go. He followed his path directly out of his beliefs about art. This manuscript, rough as it is, written before he had reached what would become his classic communications, expresses those exact beliefs.

The tensions and colors in Rothko’s work through the late forties and early fifties are very deliberate. They follow incremental steps toward the classic paintings of the fifties and sixties. There is a thin-ness in the paint used, a working through of the surface, that doesn’t come across in reproductions of the work, and which I did not see or understand looking at the work in the past.

One phrase from the book: “giving tactile values to retinal impressions”. Tactile, touch, emphasized as the primary sense – the eyes interpreting space as if it were touched and anticipating physical position.

kahn colors

All of this – Wolf Kahn’s color usage as revelation traced back through Rothko’s color fields, and Hans Hofmann as well, all of this is filling in for me a more concrete wording of what it is I want to accomplish. These realizations are directly worked into the sunset series so far. They are assisting in finding ways to communicate about painting, and my painting in particular.

— 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