Objects of desire for many of the Greatest Generation—travel trailers, campers, and motorhomes—often sit idle, sometimes for decades.
But these rusting hunks of steel and fading fiberglass hold an indelible appeal and have become an inspiration for Stanton Heights (Pennsylvania) painter Melissa Kuntz, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Driving 75 miles each way to her job as chair of the art department at Clarion University, Kuntz says she sees her fair share of travel trailers along the way.
“And I see all of these trailers in everyone’s backyard,” Kuntz says. “They have these grand aspirations to travel across America and live in the trailers. But most of them are just abandoned. There’s one on the way that has chickens in it, and I’m not even exaggerating.”
Kuntz is showing half a dozen of her travel-trailer paintings, as well as a few other related works, in her solo exhibit “Caravan” at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 709 Penn Gallery.
Each is in her signature style—large-scale oil paintings on canvas painted with large areas of flat, muted color. They are slightly reminiscent of the mid-20th-century painting style known as precisionism, in which the real world was transcribed into flat planes of cool color and solid, sometimes overwhelming, shapes that were anything but warm and fuzzy.
Despite the cool colors and clean lines of Kuntz’s paintings, she says her works are more personal than most viewers notice, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
“It’s just that they’re really subtle in how they are personal,” she says. “I spend a lot of time painting them, so there’s a lot of time to think about things while I’m painting them. I think a lot about the space that I’m creating and the space that they’re in, things that are happening in the background and all the little details in it. And so, the personal comes out in that.”
For example, pointing to the window in the front of the travel trailer depicted in “Green Stripe,” Kuntz says, “In some respect, I think of myself as making little abstract paintings in some areas of each painting. And when I stand back it becomes a representational painting. Like, in this area, I totally went wild and made it all up. I mean, I want to stay true to the photograph. I want it to be representational. I want the light, the shape and the form to be correct and everything, but there are certain areas in it where I want to allow myself to be expressive and make stuff up. I don’t like making abstract paintings. That’s not my thing at all. But I like the opportunity that a big painting like this affords in certain areas.”
Having taught painting over the last nine years at Clarion, Kuntz says she has had students describe her own paintings as “creepy.” It’s a compliment she rather relishes.
“I think there is a kind of creepiness to my paintings,” she says. “They are kind of cold. But when you get up close, you realize that they actually are a little bit subjective, or intimate, or personal. When you stand back, they are not.”
Each painting begins with a photograph of something that has caught her eye based on a certain perspective or pattern.
“When I’m taking the photos that I use for my paintings, I always see things in patterns, flat patterns,” she says. “And it’s, like, super important to me that it’s part of the overriding composition. It’s about shape, flatness and pattern.
“When you stand back, this magical thing … happens where it becomes something three-dimensional. If you get the colors right, and the shapes right and the forms right it will work.”
Also included in the show are a few of Kuntz’s sign paintings, in which she depicts only a portion of a particular vintage sign that catches her eye when she travels.
The largest sign painting in the exhibit, “Ranchero Trailer Park,” is a perfect example of this type of work. Pointing to it, Kuntz says, “There was something really hyper-real and tacky about it. I think the colors in this and the fact that it says trailer park went more with what I’ve been doing with the other paintings.”
Caravan: Paintings by Melissa Kuntz
When: Through April 13
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Sundays
Where: 709 Penn Gallery, 709 Penn Avenue, Downtown Pittsburg
Phone: (412) 456-6666
No matter what happens, travel gives you a story to tell.