Charles Bunnell: Rocky Mountain Modern
“Bunnell was a symbol of the abstractionist unrest that was spreading all over the world.” — Archie Musick, American painter and close friend of Bunnell
Charles Bunnell attended the Broadmoor Art Academy – precursor to the Fine Arts Center – where he studied under American impressionist Ernest Lawson in 1927 and 1928 and then became an instructor at the prestigious academy in 1929.
He is among the few artists who learned traditional painting at the Academy and later adopted a more purified form of abstraction in his paintings. In his paintings, pure color and shape are the elements through which our ultimate response is sensory, emotional, and intuitive.
In the 1930s, Bunnell painted and taught under the auspices of Depression-era federal art projects, including work as an assistant to master muralist Frank Mechau. By the 1940s and ’50s, his abstract paintings were exhibited with those of New York School artists who had instigated a vigorous post-war transformation of American art that secured an unprecedented shift in art world attention from Europe to America.
“In his mature works of those decades, Bunnell sought to articulate the urban vigor that had emerged in the work of Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and others, but his process and imagery was ultimately inseparable from his home between the jagged spires of Garden of the Gods and the soaring alpine summit of Pikes Peak,” writes FAC Museum Director Blake Milteer in the exhibition catalog introduction.
Many of the works for this exhibition come from the Jim and Virginia Moffett Collection of Kansas City. This nationally-recognized collection is comprised of a visionary selection of 19th and 20th century Colorado artists and subjects. The Moffetts spend summers in Colorado, and since 1990, have amassed one of the most important collections of Colorado art.
“Their particular passion for Bunnell is evident, not in the volume of his work in their collection, but in their selective eye,” writes Milteer. “The Moffetts have been drawn to works that are uniquely expressive of Bunnell’s drive, despite the heartbreak of personal tragedy and the terror of global violence in the 1930s and 1940s, to find peace through his art and extend its suggestion of human potential to the rest of us. Rocky Mountain Modern was inspired by the Moffetts’ vision.”
Also included in the exhibition are magnificent paintings, drawings, prints, and archival materials from various collections in Colorado. Kathy Loo, Jim Raughton, Paul and Teresa Harbaugh, Jack Hays and Janice Kennedy, Tracy and Sushe Felix, the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art and anonymous lenders have all contributed works and archival materials from various periods in Bunnell’s career.
Rocky Mountain Modern is accompanied by a full-color catalogue with an essay by Cori Sherman North. The exhibition is part of the Legacy Series, a special series which highlights significant artists from FAC history, and began with Sandzén in Colorado in 2011.