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Charles Munch

January 19 - April 13, 2008


The Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh is presenting a provocative exhibition of works by Wisconsin painter Charles Munch. Currently an artist-in-residence at the Paine, the culmination of Munch's residency is an exhibition in the Main Gallery of large-scale paintings, several of which are new works created especially for this project.

Munch uses deceptively simple forms and large areas of bold, luminous color to convey the mysteries of the natural world. His work sets figures within evocative, imaginary landscapes to explore the complex relationships between humans and nature. (right: Charles Munch, Two Worlds, 2007, Oil on canvas, 49 1/4 x 73 1/4 inches, Courtesy of the artist)

For additional information and to read Charles's on-line journal, please visit the Paine's website.


Artist's Statement

I live in the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin, high on a hill surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods and abandoned farm fields. Animals, both wild and domestic, are my nearest neighbors and most frequent visitors. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, rabbits, possums, and birds of every size and variety wander or fly past my studio day and night.

The nearness of these varied animals has often led me to meditate on our relationship with them. Are we friends or enemies? Are we spiritually connected? Do they think about us? Is wild or tame better? Can we learn from them? Can we co-exist peacefully? Can they save us?

My thoughts have inspired paintings that I sometimes think of as nature icons, that is, images conducive to meditation on questions that may have no answer but are worth exploring. For example, the mysterious stillness inherent in painted images encourages meditation on the twin riddles: What happened before? What will happen afterwards? As I paint, these are some of my thoughts, which I hope are shared by viewers who spend time with my paintings. I believe that the more deeply we explore our relationship with other animals and the rest of the natural world, the healthier the world will be.

Although I'm often inspired by the fields and forest around me, I seldom work from nature. My paintings usually begin as vague ideas quickly set down in my sketchbook with a mixture of watercolor and crayon. If a sketch intrigues me, I make another one or move on to a small oil painting. At each stage of development I alter the composition, colors, and tones in an effort to make the painting truer to my feelings about the subject. The process sometimes ends with very large paintings like the ones in this exhibition. Although these large paintings are more difficult to work on, they also offer a greater opportunity for the satisfaction of getting the details exactly right.

I use bright, clear colors and simplified shapes, attempting to convey a distinct image by the plainest means possible. I eliminate extraneous details, allowing room for the expression of emotion through the abstract elements of color, line, and shape. I depict my subject with barely enough description to make it recognizable, and then try to bring it to pulsing life through vibrant color relationships and dynamic compositions. My goal is to create images that are even truer to my vision of nature and my emotions about it than a realistic painting could be.



Charles Munch was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up spending summers at his family's vacation home in Sturgeon Bay. He showed an early interest in art and the Wisconsin landscape, particularly the light and colors of the Lake Michigan shore. After receiving his artistic training as a realist painter at Reed College, the Portland Museum School, and the New York Studio School, Charles apprenticed with the paintings conservator at The Frick Collection in New York. (left: Charles Munch, Hush!, 2002, Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches, Courtesy of Tory Folliard Gallery, Milwaukee)

For the next 30 years Charles worked as a freelance conservator and artist, painting his surrounding environment -- landscapes, still lifes, figures, and interiors -- in a controlled, realist style. In the early 1980s Charles transitioned from subjects drawn from close observation to dreamlike imagery derived primarily from his imagination. His style also transformed dramatically at this time from realism to a distinctive, semi-abstract style characterized by bright colors and simplified forms.

Charles's work has been celebrated in major exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Fairfield Center for Contemporary Art. He is represented by Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee and Grace Chosy Gallery in Madison. Charles was recently awarded a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship for 2008.

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