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

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
― Pablo Picasso

expatriate artist


I am an expatriate Southern Californian. How I look at light. My conception of space and perspective. Color and form, translated into paint on canvas, and from that to plane and three dimensional space implied on two dimensions. All of this is sourced from this sense of being elsewhere.

I learned to see in California. I know colors and forms and techniques learned and drilled from that space. It doesn’t leave, it still influences.

I miss an ocean to the West, a long line of water and sand roughly north-south. I had always located direction and location from that. Move an ocean to the east and that expansive sense of space and innate ability to feel located is just gone.

The sun rises over the ocean in the east, backward, distorting time. The days in the northeast are dramatically longer in summer, shorter in winter.

Summer encloses space in trees and foliage, vines and bushes explode in the spring. Sight lines are interrupted, broken, occluded. In fall the space opens back up, but with the openness soon loses all color, dropping back to simplistic greys and browns and line and shadow. The space is back, but at a price of limited light and dropped temperatures.

Lying on a beach in February, in Malibu, feeling the warm grit of the sand supporting and bouying, and the sun flodding light and color. The rhythm of the waves, swells crossing huge distances over the Pacific, finally mounting the continental shelf and lapping at the edge of the world.

It is right now 14 degrees outside my door, at 4:00 PM the light is shadows, and I’ve just spent three hours clearing my driveway of snow. In New England. In the winter. Which basically implies that I’m here, this is expected and I don’t have the right to complain too much. Some grumbling is expected.

It does not feel like home here, as an artist. I don’t believe it ever will. There will always be sand and sunsets and true beaches and warm days in winter in my soul. I source images and emotion from that, and from the separation and dislocation of painting in the Northeast.

Artists are supposed to be classed by location. A “New England artist” constributes to a collector understanding the work, or at least feeling that they understand the work. I live in New England. I am a Southern California artist. That’s truth.


CA coast


— 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

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