Living the dream
It's a dream come true.
After years of hard work and sacrifice, Brad Kunkle will realize his dream of having his first solo art exhibit at a tony Manhattan art gallery.
"It's a dream come true and very surreal," says the 1996 Lehighton Area High School graduate.
"Having a solo show in New York City is something I've dreamed of since I was roaming the halls of high school. I know how fortunate I am; there are a ton of artists out there from all over the world who have the same dream."
Some may look at Kunkle and call him lucky, but it isn't luck that got him to this place in his life. He is an incredibly talented artist and he has worked very hard toward this goal, sometimes painting for hours at a time.
"Being from a small town like Lehighton makes the whole feeling that much more romantic," says Kunkle. "If there's one thing I'm proud of, it's being from a small town and accomplishing this. I had amazing parents that believed in me and taught me the value of hard work and positive social skills. You can have talent, but if you don't have those two other things, you're not going to get far down any path in life."
Kunkle credits the support of his friends and family in helping him get to this point in his life. He says he also followed his instincts, and worked "VERY hard."
That hard work and devotion to his art has even helped him develop an unusual style of painting, that employs the use of gold and silver leaf throughout the work. Primarily done in black and white, the metallic elements give his work an ethereal quality almost dreamlike.
The process, he says, was developed over about 10 years.
"Most of that time was spent painting in my head, figuring things out without actually painting for real," says Kunkle. "I had to unlearn a lot of things from school because I just didn't feel connected to those techniques and traditional ways of doing things. I started compiling imagery that I liked most from artists of the past, and I was attracted to the haunting quality of early photographs. Full color palettes never did it for me, so I just got rid of color. I like the surreal quality of the muted gray skin tones and the warmth of the umbers they just feel natural to me.
"The missing element in my work was the gold and silver. Metal leaf has been used for centuries, and of course I had seen it used in fine art before, but it never struck me until I was copper leafing entire walls as a decorative painter. I was so impressed with the shifting of the surfaces and I knew that I had the last piece to my puzzle," Kunkle explains.
He started to experiment at that point, until he felt all the pieces of that puzzle fit the way he felt they should. Trusting his instincts, he intuitively began using Q-tips and rags to paint forests, and says now there isn't a painting of his in which he does not use those tools in place of a brush.
In simple terms, Kunkle creates his paintings by using a clear adhesive that is brushed on the areas where he wants to apply the gold or silver, making sure the surrounding areas of paint are dry."
When he applies the leaf, it only sticks to those areas where he has placed the adhesive.
He then manipulates the leaf with metal tools to treat the edges. The area is eventually sealed with shellac to prevent the metal from tarnishing or to give any successive layers of oil paint some adhesion.
Kunkle graduated from Kutztown University in 2001 with a bachelor of fine arts with a concentration in painting. He worked as a toy designer for a small startup company for a couple of years, and then quit to focus on a musical career, playing bass in an indie rock band called Aderbat. He supplemented that income as a house painter, while sometimes doing decorative wall work.
He painted houses for a few years and then started painting animal portraits.
"I painted dog portraits for about two years, and when the economy tanked in 2009, I found myself scrambling for work," explains Kunkle, adding that he wasn't very happy doing dog portraits, but considered the opportunity a steppingstone toward his greater goal.
"For the next six months I lived with a friend in Hellertown lived like a pauper and worked on my body of personal paintings to take to New York City in hopes of getting representation."
Kunkle painted an average of 14 hours each day, and says he still works very hard. When it was time to search for a gallery to represent him, he set his sights high.
"I was never interested in putting my energy into doing small shows in smaller galleries," says Kunkle. "I figured if I was in a small gallery it would be in hopes of getting picked up by a larger one, so why not just give the largest ones a shot first?"
A year ago he took eight paintings to Arcadia Gallery in New York. The rest, as they say, is history.
"We had such a strong response from collectors, that I was included in two small group shows that year. By the late summer, the owner of Arcadia asked me if I'd like my own solo show in April of 2010. I knew it was only six or seven months away and had no paintings left to show, but I couldn't say no.
"It was an opportunity I had dreamed of since I was a kid."
With a work ethic he attributes to his parents, William and Cindy Kunkle of Franklin Township, Kunkle headed to the studio in his Brooklyn home, and began to paint. He has created 18 paintings for his World Premiere Exhibition, which opens Thursday, April 22 and runs through May 7 at the Arcadia Gallery, 51 Greene St. in Manhattan.
Kunkle has moved well beyond puppy portraits as his subject of choice, and now focuses on women.
"The beauty and mysterious power of women has intrigued and terrified man since the beginning of recorded history," says Kunkle. "I don't think it will ever get old. Oddly enough, I think the female in art is a more relatable and approachable icon then the male. I have painted men and animals, and I will be working with some men soon, but for now, the feminine theme is fueling my work."
Kunkle says the ideas for his paintings come to him in different ways.
"It's never the same, but usually I have an idea, then hire models to photograph or work from life in the studio. I start with a pretty solid idea of what the painting will be, but leave plenty of room for things to happen along the way. That's why I don't really do sketches or studies and also why I love painting forests and leaves nature is so unpredictable and random, and it gives me the freedom to paint a bit from my imagination, compared to following the unmistakable anatomy of the human form."
Kunkle knows for a fact one can come from a small town and make it big.
In addition to this show and the shows last summer at Arcadia, Kunkle has been exhibited in just one other show at the Schoolhouse Gallery in Weissport in 2000.
"(Artist) Ed Meneeley was living and working out of there at the time and was gracious enough to give me and my friends our first show," says Kunkle. "Ed is an artist-gem hiding in Lehighton."
Meneeley's body of work transcends five decades and includes paintings, prints, photography and sculpture. His work has been shown around the world and is included in numerous collections.
Kunkle also points out Franz Kline, the famous abstract expressionist from the 1950s, who is also a Lehighton High School graduate. While Kunkle insists he is not comparing himself to Kline on that level, he remembers as a youngster thinking "how amazing it would be to 'make it' in New York."
"It was such a foreign, impossible place to me as a kid," he explains. "So, yes, the best way to describe the feeling of my first solo show is a dream come true."