Vicious skate

Everything eats everything: a visit with prodigious primordial painter Henry Gunderson
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Like many artists, Henry Gunderson, a 19-year-old who attends the San Francisco Art Institute, focuses on "process, not product." But the similarity ends there. Gunderson's paintings have a diaphanous, primordial sensibility; it's a dog-eats-dog world, as depicted in his piece Everybody Eats Somebody, wherein fish begets vulture begets cat begets a winged bird with human molars lined up in the forefront for kicks.

Gunderson's paintings have been showcased at Fecal Face Dot Gallery, 111 Minna Gallery, and White Walls in SF, and will be seen soon in San Diego at Subtext Gallery and Toronto at Show and Tell Gallery. His is no drip-drop kitsch art. His work brings vivifying eyeplay over landscapes of faces and bodies. It possesses the bright polychromy of baroque art, but with individual sketches of a skateboard or two thrown in for visual effect. Such juxtapositions and themes of overlapping parasitism are characteristic. At times stupefying, Gunderson's figurative images are evidence of an enviable talent. The hard edges, flattened spaces, and sharp dissecting corners are not quite George Braque and not quite Henry Darger. This juggernaut of faces and beheaded bodies and faces is Gunderson's world, or at least the one he retreats to on canvas. He's running on a different engine, and his images hum and even hurt the teeth a little, but in a good way.

I recently met up with Gunderson — a lanky figure in turtle-green skinny jeans and a striped shirt — at his school studio at the San Francisco Art Institute.

SFBG At what age did you decide you liked to draw?

Henry Gunderson Since I was really young, I remember liking to draw just like any kid. I think I started out with crayons on walls.

SFBG What would you call the painting that you're working on right now?

HG This one's untitled at the moment, and it's done with acrylic paint like many of my other paintings. I usually don't title my work until I feel it's done.

SFBG What would you say is the message behind some of your other paintings?

HG The piece Everybody Eats Somebody shows the hierarchy of animals in the food chain, but it also carries an underlying message about human beings.

SFBG And what would that be?

HG We're vicious animals too. What exists in other animals also exists in human nature.

SFBG What are your goals? What would you like people to take away from your art?

HG Not a direct message, really, but just an emotion when they look at the painting — any emotion, even depression. Usually when I am drawing, I don't really focus on how others will take in the finished product. I just kind of space out and really get into what I am doing.

SFBG Do you want to channel your talent into a future career, or will painting always be more of a side thing?

HG Hopefully it would be a career path I can make a living from, but I'd like to stick to my own vision and not do too much commercial stuff. I've always pretty much [maintained] my own way of doing things, and my art is no different. If people like what they see, then that's great. I don't have too many commercial goals, and I hope I never will have to use that medium for my art.

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