Brad Kunkle, b. 1978 Lehighton, Pennsylvania. Lives and works in New York. BFA, Kutztown University, 2001. A decade after selling out his debut solo exhibition in New York City on opening night, Brad Kunkle has become internationally known for his unique use of gold and silver leaf in contemporary oil painting. His themes explore the shedding of dogmas inherited from previous generations, intuition, and the power of feminine energies as guides for seeking enlightenment in symbiosis with the natural world.
Born in rural Pennsylvania, Brad Reuben Kunkle spent his younger years exploring and romanticizing the beauty of the sparse countryside and the deep forests around him. From an early age he was drawn to the worlds of Maxfield Parrish and the Pre-Raphaelites — worlds, he says, “where a subtle, supernatural beauty seems to be hiding under the breath of women — worlds where something beyond our natural perception is waiting to be found.”
He studied painting at Kutztown University mostly under George Sorrels, who was taught by a pupil of the 19th century Academic painter, William Adolphe Bougereau. Filled with academic principles, Brad felt confident in his ability, but stifled by the structure of schools and dissatisfied with the boundaries of traditional imagery. In an effort to discover his own artistic sensibilities, he worked as a commission-based portraitist, and began an almost decade-long journey of continued self-instruction and independent study.
Brad was searching for an unnatural quality in his paintings, and it was ironically discovered by reducing his processes to the elements of painting he felt came most natural to him. His minimal palette is inspired by the grisailles of early European masters and the haunting quality of antique photographs and daguerreotypes. “Grisaille has a mysterious quality to it, and that mysterious quality is also at times carried into the way I will treat an object or a dress. Sometimes I like to give just enough information for the viewer to finish the details of what they are seeing.”
As a decorative painter in his mid twenties, he leafed entire walls in copper. He was beguiled by the shifting, life-like nature of the surfaces, and began to incorporate gilding in his work. This proved to fulfill the unreal quality he had been looking for to convey his moody, romantic ideas of human nature and ritual.
“The use of gold and silver in my paintings serve two main functions — the first being symbolic. Gold and silver serve as symbols in many ways but to begin with, they are ‘material’ symbols in harsh contrast to the spiritual or intangible aspects of life. The shifting of the leafed skies and wallpapers are also symbolic of the ever-changing world we live in. Furthermore, gold is the single most controversial element in the history of mankind. It causes wars, brings death, happiness and beauty — symbolizes love, power, greed, and religion… it’s symbolic properties are just as malleable as it’s physical properties.