David Cunningham “When I am done learning I will be dead”!

by mick laBriola · Camden News 2-1-12

go-go by David CunninghamEngagement, articulation, emotion and tranquility are a few of the predominant characteristics emanating from the austere studio of David Cunningham. With a very confident and sensitive disposition, David is a serious oil painter aspiring to continually evolve his art work. You can view his work on his web site.

David was raised in north Minneapolis, in the Camden neighborhood, with three brothers, four sisters and his very ambitious parents. David recalls at the young age of 6 watching his brother Jeremy draw, and his cousin Joshua paint. Both artists apprenticed with fresco painter Mark Balma of Excelsior, Minnesota. David remembers asking Jeremy at age 12 what school he should attend for art studies, but nothing came of this at the time. Then at age 16, while attending high school, David began attending classes part time at the Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art in Minneapolis. And the relationship he developed with the Atelier Program would have an enduring and substantial impact on David’s entire artistic career.

After high school, David enrolled in the Atelier for four years, completing his studies in 2006. The Atelier Program melds formal 19th-century academic training with influences of the French Impressionists. Since its inception in 1970, the Atelier has had a tremendous impact on the entire academic world of French Impressionist, Renaissance and Realist schools, stressing draftsmanship and the historical “sight size” method. David emulated the work of John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla. The Atelier offers no degree in Art, but rather implements a foundation for learning mind, eye, and hand coordination skills.

For his post-academic work, David ventured forth to Argentina, taking up water-color landscape creations, living out-of-his-back-pack, and residing for 6 months in the Andes Mountains of Patagonia in the town of El Bolson. This is an area that is a four-to-18 mile hike to get to: no cars or roads; middle of the mountains; only horses allowed. On his return to the Twin Cities, David brought back water-color work that he exhibited in local art crawls and coffee houses.

While back in Minnesota, David dropped water colors and continued doing landscapes in oils; for the next two years in and around Minnesota and Wisconsin living out-of-his-car. As he re-emerged back home in 2009, he acquired a modest apartment and a studio space at the Casket Arts Building in North East Minneapolis.

“Painting is a release valve, letting off all pressure”, David expresses. “Since I got out of school, I want to find my own thing. I have plenty of connections in Minneapolis, I know a lot of people; I can find cheap rent and extra work if I need it. And my work is moderately priced from around $1,000 to $4,000 per piece. I want to evolve my work to where I want to be: I have a lot of freedom and maybe I can find one exclusive gallery and perhaps put out 50 pieces per year, getting my working method down and learning more skills. For the past year I was doing indoor bar and cafe subjects; now I’m working on an outdoor perspective”.

David articulates further, “I started out at Atelier with the bare essentials, did charcoal for three years, drawing plaster casts. Got my discipline or technical abilities and it gave me the nuts and bolts. When I am done learning, I will be dead! My best work gets across emotion, in the simplest terms: just simplicity! My goal is to get across an emotion — all sensual, not intellectual — just emotions!

David now enlightened me about his process, “I see painting being into music! Andy Warhol said, the reason I paint is to listen to music! I (David) listen to music dancing around, it helps me process, amusing my models. Music is very important! I start out with a broad idea or photograph; I may take one item and create something in a half hour. I may leave the idea and let it sit, problem solving, sleeping on them. I keep a template, and expand other ideas or whatever I feel at that moment the painting becomes”.

Currently, he adds, “I am doing Street Photography. I find a street composition, catching the moment (an impressionist quote), and shoot a lot. It is an inspiration.

A little template, stages empty streets. This is the best time of the year for me, a doable time, calculating angles. Forty-five minutes shooting photos will lead to a larger piece incorporating models and other things. The viewpoint is so important and the “Eye Level”, how you see it from your body, from where you are standing, perspective points from eye level”.

Finally, David shares,”I am very rooted here and have a huge extended family. I can sell east to west, move somewhere, and move back. Drawing is a meditation, the amount of focus is incredible. My focus is on satisfying myself, and I’m getting there. But never be too satisfied, you only get better and better. To be able to paint is not easy, you must learn how to do it”. David’s favorite painters are Rembrandt and George Inness.

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