Los Angeles

Roger Kuntz

Pasadena Art Museum

The exhibition consists of oil paintings and constructions that relate to the California freeway system; as a unit they confront the viewer with the same mixture of emotional responses that driving the freeway incites. For the sake of clarity the works can be divided into three categories: (1) Close-up, cropped views of signs and symbols that give directions, identify roadways, and indicate speeds, representing the fleeting images seen through the eyes of the driver or pedestrian. Their crisp, green and white configurations, cut with shadows, indicate authority without being dictatorial; a positive sense of self imposed order brought about by an exploding society. (2) Distant views of highways and surrounding environment which, though denying activity, express humanity in total views of billboards, hanging wash, and open windows. One assumes the people are off to camp meeting or at Chavez Ravine. (3) Carefully selected chunks of steel-supported concrete structures, without people, without wash, without signs, but with the formal grandeur and functional simplicity of the freeway, its underpasses and interchanges, affected by the intensity of a raking sun. These, combined with the traffic signal constructions, which relate to the third category, create a total environment that has a past, present, and future, that calls forth the same mystical condition that one feels when looking at the epic remains of an extinct society.

All of this poses the question of whether Kuntz (and many an other contemporary painter) thinks in terms of the individual object, or if these works must be seen together to have their mystical impact. As individual objects some are excellent, some are weak (the traffic signals for example are not resolved). But together, everything is better. This use of multiple imagery to create total truth is not new to our time. It was the life breath of the interior decor of a Byzantine Church, a Gothic Cathedral or Giotto’s Arena Chapel. It is a great pleasure to witness this mystical-spiritual concept at mid-20th century whether it happens to be in the environment sized paintings of Barnett Newman, the action environment of an Oldenberg Happening, the enveloping screen of Cinema, the static morality plays of Ed Kienholz, or the total exploration of a single facet of American life as in the “Freeway Paintings” of Roger Kuntz.

Henry T. Hopkins