One of my favorite pastimes is silently sitting on my deck and staring at the setting sun as large amounts of clouds waft in the sky. I watch the bright Cerulean Blue sky turn to Royal Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue and ultimately Indigo. The almost white-yellows of the sun and clouds turn to bright Indian Red, subtle types of ochre, Cadmium Orange, brilliant to soft pinks, Alizarin Crimson, Magenta, reddish to blue purples, warm grays, and end as cool grays almost lost within the Indigo.
When I viewed Anita Bunn’s exhibit titled, “The Sun Tells Quite Another Story” (from a character’s line in Hawthorne’s novel “The House of the Seven Gables”) at Offramp Gallery, I instantly recognized another setting sun enthusiast. In the Gallery’s main space one is confronted with Bunn’s expected signature pieces: five well-spaced, fairly large photographs, each a different section of a tree posed in front of the sky. These photos were shot as long digital exposures in RAW format during dusk or at night using only the city’s ambient or artificial light, such as street lamps, with which to make her exposures, and then printed on a large inkjet printer. This dim lighting results in a beautiful dance between sharp and soft transitions of values in each photograph, which Bunn states as “…simultaneously revealing both more and less”.
As a photography graduate of Art Center Pasadena, with an MFA from Claremont Graduate University, and years working as a photographer for private clients, Bunn brings a vast amount of experiences to her current photography. This is shared with her students at the University of La Verne and Los Angeles Mission College Institute of Arts and Multimedia, where she teaches a variety of photography classes that include black and white darkroom, digital photography, light, platinum printing, and more.
What was unexpected when I first saw these pictures was the belief that the artist had hung up her camera for a brush; they looked that painterly. You noticed the blurring of a photographic blowup only when standing a foot from each image. Many photographers attempt this sort of trompe l’oeil, but only a few actually achieve it, such as the photographs of the artist Suzanne Opton. But Bunn also creates a strong atmospheric feel, leading you to imagine you’re viewing a heavily cropped 19th century landscape; her photographs have Romanticism’s emphasis on the sublime. Her trees and sky reminded me of the small phenomenal landscapes of Robert Marchessault which I saw a few years ago at Bergamot Station. Like Marchessault, Bunn is interested in the boundary between a finite tree and an infinite sky or as she puts it, “…how objects negotiate a shared space.” Bunn further states that her work is “…an investigation into the act of noticing, of turning away from the spectacle towards that which we tend to overlook”.
Bunn forces the viewer to focus on her complex organic forms by presenting them as essentially minimalist pieces that continuously repeat the same format. As a result, viewers must ask themselves what has changed from one picture to another and therefore pay close attention to the nuance of things.
David Pagel’s Los Angeles Times Review of Bunn’s show stated that in these five photographs “…beauty sometimes seems poisonous, not quite toxic but dangerous enough to make you anxious, alert, nervous.” Interestingly, while I also experienced a nervousness it was instead filled with anticipation and excitement. That the ambiguity of subject matter and treatment elicit different viewer outcomes is a good definition of the “fine” in fine art.
Like Pagel, I found that the other pieces in her exhibit provided a less dramatic punch, however, this is not a failure in the artist’s abilities but rather a calculated move on her part. Shown are five almost identical photographs of clouds. Except for a hint of a cerulean colored sky, each photograph resembles a black and white print. The time-lapsed photographs were purposefully not taken during dramatic lighting conditions and the reason for this, as I see it, is that the artist does not want the viewer distracted from what she terms the “…subtle shifts in perception that occur over time and through repetition…the complexity and nuance that exist within a seemingly simple construct.”
Now you have to hand it to an artist who, in the same solo show, can give you pictures akin to Romanticism’s emphasis on the senses on one wall and then, on another wall, conceptual pictures concerned with the stochastic, that is, the unpredictability in the unstable borders of clouds. It’s a brave move by Anita Bunn, and something you don’t usually come across at galleries.