TYLER MEUNINCK • The Harbor Estuary
November 13, 2016 - January 7, 2017
Tyler Meuninck creates paintings of overlooked, regional panoramas of cityscapes in transit from Milwaukee to neighboring locations and states. The series is sourced from a visual journal of photographs and drawings, and includes modern candid and traditional painting configurations. Each work is infused with a curiosity and appreciation for the industry, community and landscape surrounding Lake Michigan.
My paintings are what I like to call "stray locations around the southern bend of Lake Michigan." They represent industrial neighborhoods that have piqued my curiosity about their history, lives, and people. I paint both large and small works that are indebted to the properties of the tools in my hand and represent arrangements of forms that embody a sense of place. My studio practice adheres loosely to the credo of some midcentury abstractionists and a few early and late modernists, that "It is not what you paint but how it is painted." Paint, in a sense, is the active ingredient that carries and displays a portrait of its own actions. Each work, like the landscape it depicts, may reveal an unnameable but identifiable character, a portrait of place. The works as a whole describe my appreciation for the oceanic panorama of the cities around Lake Michigan.
Tyler Meuninck resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He attended the Herron School of Art and Design, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, and further received a Masters of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Exhibitions include: Timothy Cobb Fine Arts, Wisconsin / Flux Gallery, Indiana / New Galleries, Indiana / The Harrison Center for the Arts, Indiana / Elaine Erikson Gallery, Wisconsin / Walkers Point, Wisconsin / Eddington Gallery, Michigan / Healing Arts, Indiana / Mount Comfort Gallery, Indiana / Indianapolis Art Center, Indiana
The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.
What was the first thing that you made? Do you remember why you made it? What materials did you use and why?
Well, I remember my sister and I had to find ways to entertain ourselves when we were growing up. Some weekends we stayed at our grandparent’s house in Mishawaka. I remember drawing all over my grandparent’s junk mail. They had stacks of it all over the table and I would draw horses and characters on the backs of their envelopes. My grandfather painted as a casual hobby after he retired and was sort of a distant and staid character in company, but a real adventurer when he was alone. I don t think he enjoyed being around his grandkids very often but if we were quiet he sometimes would be very animated and playful. That s when he would draw too. Then we would draw with pencils and would have contests. I would draw a horse, sort of naively, and he would make a better one, but would point out his mistakes so I would think my version wasn’t too far off.
How and when did you know you were an artist?
The how and when would have probably happened at different times. I think my sister Jessica and I both had an innate sense that we could be artists when we were little because our parents were artists. I think that Jessica and I just assumed that we would follow suite after everyone else. Especially Jessica she went after her career right away. It took about eight years of practice to feel like I could say I was an artist though. When I moved to Indianapolis and went to Herron, our teachers let us know that we were only students and that it would take a while to be recognized in that way. Herron was an art school loosely connected to Indiana University in those days. Herron was a few miles east of the main campus and had only recently joined with Indiana University. I think we all thought that was something special. I decided to go to Herron even though I really wasn’t as proficient as a lot of the older students. There were a lot of prodigious talents there, but many of them were a little ahead of themselves sometimes. Later, I would be a part of that group. The professors were right to remind us we didn’t quite have as much figured out as we thought. When Kipp Normand organized my first solo show I think that really gave me a start. That was about four years after studying at Herron. Kipp had an enormous show of his own work at the HCA that same year. He had an explosive number of pieces not only in this exhibit but others like Art-House 60 and I think at the newly opened Flux Gallery. Everyone was really excited about his work. So I was very lucky to have his help and endorsement following his success. Then a few years later in 2008 I had my fourth solo exhibit and I guess I thought I could make a fair claim that I was an artist having had a few shows by then.
What was the event/person that got you started creating your art? Does that event/person continue to influence the work that you do?
Well my mother is an exceptional artist. She makes, and has made, the most fervently involved conceptual furniture. I would have to say my father (Tom Meuninck), is my biggest influence though. The range of his skill set is enormous and he is still inexhaustible in his '70s. My Dad or Tom introduced me to a lot of artists and started taking me to museums when I was maybe ten or eleven. He would go over his own aesthetic preferences well before I had any inclination of what he was talking about, but I went along with it, and he naturally told the same stories over and over again. So they would be difficult to forget even if you wanted to. When I was fourteen or fifteen they held Saturday drawing classes at the Century Center in South Bend Indiana and David Voros was our teacher. David was from the Art Institute of Chicago and our class would take field trips on the south shore line to the Art Institute on the weekends. After those trips and several more with my dad, more of what my father was talking about started to make sense. Especially with our visits to the museum where I could look at the works that he referenced in person. The idea of approaching work or making art started generating a lot of magnetism for me on another level. That was a very fortunate experience at that age. So I started to read about the artists that he recommended which included Noguchi, Dekooning, Brancusi, George Rickey, Puryear, and several others. I remember that we went to a Franz Kline Retrospective in 1995 at the MCA that was curated very nicely. After that show I started make smaller versions of what I thought Kline was trying to do with oil sticks. I tried to make my own versions after photographs we took of the Locks in Calumet Calumet city. I was around fifteen then and simultaneously attended the drawing class. David was in a way both a contemporary and traditional figurative painter that studied Titian and Veronese. He encouraged us to go to hear Kiki Smith and several contemporary artists who were visiting the state colleges, where most of the local area professors had greater affections for classical painters. They were fantastic academic artists though; whose work gave no impression of short sighted imitations. I’m sure those few years weighed in largely as a formative experience. A year or so later I was glad to have David Voros again as a painting teacher in college. He was an extremely generous professor and gave us the most useful and tangible painting knowledge anyone could hope to have early on. Of course Marc Jacobson and Richard Nicholson were equally devoted to rigorous teaching, but that was a few years later. David really brought a lot of his own research to the table for our class. He and his wife Pam Bowers studied all over Europe where they now have a school in Italy. They came up with extraordinary and anomalous lessons for the students. David would take us into the slide room and we would day after day copy Piero Della Francesca's compositional arrangements and angles. We studied Rembrandt's directional brushstrokes and copied Balthus Kosslowski’s le Passage du Commerce Saint Andre. On a few occasions we watched Charles Laughton's The Night of The Hunter with Robert Mitchum. David would stop the film in places and explain the dynamics of the angles used to compose each scene. This was Laughton s only effort as a director. He had played Rembrandt as an actor but made The Night of The Hunter almost entirely from painting compositions that he recreated along the Ohio River Valley and in old Hollywood studios. So the class had a unique combination of David s first hand research that he brought back from Italy, with a brief history of film to. I spent more time with my dad at his school after David's class then. He would fire his kiln until eleven before going home and we would talk while he would make drawings or bend forms in clay with a kind of synthetic cubist take on everything. He would often draw heads or contort and bend planes on a vessel. There always seemed to be a sophisticated turning of forms in his work. A lot of synthetic cubist negotiations of space that gave them a kind of freshness. He’d put a number of years into what he was doing and could work very quickly with assurance, always teaching through demonstration.
Who or what inspires you and why?
The people I’ve worked closest to I suppose form a thread of inspiration. Marc Jacobson from Herron has been a friend and adviser for years even after I had his class. Marc is a teacher of mine from Herron and the two of us along with his professor the late Joseph Friedbert were a part of a three man show in 2013. That was one of the most rewarding events I’ve had the fortune to be a part of. Marc was such a driving force early on and pushed us, or our class, very hard but with an understanding of where we were at our age. After my dad he is the foremost example of someone that shows up in my paintings without thinking too much about it. There he is, and I think oh yeah Marc would have thought that was useless space. At that show I saw some of the Friebert elements in Jacobson's work as if they were sort of distant relatives. Casey Roberts was a studio neighbor of mine for a few years and the two of us used to talk for hours on end about our work. David Russick, the exhibitions director at the Milwaukee Art museum once told me, to some effect, that Casey's large scale cyanotypes would be his first choice to organize an exhibition for. That is if he had the saying power to do so. Maybe he does, I’m not sure. Casey had museum acquisitions early on so that wasn’t necessarily a surprise. I always thought I was unusually fortunate to have a peer that could accomplish so much, who was relatively close to my age. There is just an endless supply of exceptional character in that artist and it overflows into everything he does. Casey unknowingly led me to David Fertigs work at Art Chicago in 2006. Fertigs' paintings were just over the walkway from his own space at the Merchandise Mart, and those pieces really shook my bones. One painting in particular, of several blotchy Napoleonic soldiers in a small boat, fit appropriately with a number of artists work that I was thinking about at the time. I think the painting was called the HMS Diamond, but there are two or three of Dresden that I go back to over and over again. Fertig is an older painter now in his '70s. who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and lives in New Jersey. He has an enormous body of work and there are some real gems in his archive. He doesn’t seem to be afraid of trying anything, and often paints very candidly with a high degree of focus. His painting The Carronade is one of my favorite pieces. A few earlier influences would include Ed Sanders and Carla Knopp from the 431 Avant Garde gallery. Ed was an architect in Indianapolis Indiana that also painted full-time. This really impressed a lot of us because he seemed to live out two fully productive lives. Of course painting and architecture seem relatively similar from a distance, I don't think that the by-products of those career paths were at all similar. You wouldn’t associate his work with an architect's. Both architecture and painting required a great deal of time invested to them however. Ed was a gloomy sort of painter but equally funny. He made these wonderful naively executed, though intentionally botched portraits of George Reeves and television characters from the first superman series, He also made interiors with groggy diner waitresses from the Peppy Grill near his studio in Fountain Square (Indianapolis) and recreations of bobbling nuns from his youth. His posthumous show in 2008 at the Flux Gallery left a huge mark on a lot of us. They were very personal works dedicated to the shows he watched on tv when he was a kid in the nineteen fifties. Unfortunately, he passed away only a month before the exhibit. Though he didn’t sell a lot of work, he gained a lot of recognition after he passed away for his uncompromised soutine-like paintings. Also, Carla Knopp paints with a lot of gumption but with even greater verisimilitude. She makes all kinds of paintings that fit together seamlessly. Her oval shaped paintings of somewhat hybrid landscapes have some very heavily applied passages that I am very enthusiastic about. And of course there is Todd Bracik, who I call about once a week. Todd is a metal sculptor and has made fantastic large scale public commissioned sculptures. He has made commemorative works that are featured prominently in the town squares of Hammond, IN. as well as in the village his family migrated from in Slovenia. He and I have collaborated on a number of his projects for shows, and he also has helped me to install work on a number of occasions. We discuss our studio schedule habits regularly, and how our work relates to where we grew up near the steel industry in northwest Indiana. I think we both feel that area is an integral part of what we do.
Are there any programs or opportunities to learn that you wish you had had as a young artist?
Oh, they all do and I don't want to forget to mention the hundreds of influential conversations with Leslie Vansen, Lee Ann Garrison, and Kay Knight at The Peck School of The Arts. Leslie was at the reigns behind everything I did for three years and the three of them are brilliant professors and phenomenal artists. I really think you get the most out of those practicing artists that you know. Of course, in the studio there are, at times, a few books open that you think about. The artists I know carry a little more weight. They have and still do provide a proportionate amount of leverage to what can be achieved, each in their own way.
What would you say to a young person to encourage their study and practice of art?
Well, I would say that there are a lot of artists slaving away in their studios without the guaranteed promise of a return. So if you're an artist and you are young then it’s good to fill up a wall in your studio and keep filling it, sometimes for years, without knowing necessarily why. More importantly, it really doesn’t matter where you come from. I can’t think of any artist comes from a cosmopolitan background, and if they did it has no real bearing on the qualitative appearance of their work. You should have a sworn pact with yourself and what you intend to do. That is something that has to take precedent over whatever doubt you clock into every day. You have to get to the middle of what you’re doing, and by doing that you slowly gravitate toward your idea of an accomplishment and all sorts of unexpected positive opportunities. I’ve known a lot of artists that work every day and that’s inspiring. There are others go long stretches without working and come right back with a newfound wellspring of poised initiative.
The following questions are intended to create insight into the artist’s practice and why they think art is important.
Do you like people to see your work/comment on it while it is still in process?
I suppose I do, it depends on the day, but yes usually. It almost always helps.
Do you have a daily artistic ritual or routine?
I usually wake up very early, about 1 am and paint before I go to work. Sometimes I work at night but mid-day is just awful I can’t make work in the middle of the day for some reason. Prepare for it sure... draw or paint, probably not.
What is the most unusual aspect of your creative process?
I think I am fairly conventional, but I’ll use odd things around the house sometimes along with brushes. Those fake credit cards that come in the mail are great palette knives.
Is this your first career and only career?
No, I have a day job.
If not, what jobs have you done other than being an artist and how has that influenced your artistic practice?
Well, I’ve taught foundation drawing classes at UWM and used to manage and Italian restaurant. I’m not sure how the management work relates but, I think it gives you quite a lot of energy, bustling around for twelve hours or so a day. Of course teaching helps to articulate how to use the tools. It’s also great practice for addressing and relaying pertinent information, and the students make all kinds of great work throughout the semester. They really make you want to work.
Why create art?
It’s a little out of my reach to say why, but lately I’ve been revisiting some old work and speaking to my dad every day. He’s in his mid seventies and talks about his renewed appreciation for the places he goes. He’s very optimistic but still realizes he’s getting older and there is a hint of this, ”last long look at the world”, in what he describes. I think for me that would be enough to jot down “A long last look at the world.” It sounds depressing but I get very excited about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a lot of work and try out some new techniques.
What role does the artist have in society?
All sorts of roles, one can be political, conceptual, humorous, maybe poetic. Of course there are all kinds of commercial and noncommercial career paths. Artists seem to have a common desire to react with some inventive purpose as makers in a broad sense. I think for a lot of artists their role is fairly insignificant like Ishmael in Moby Dick though. A little uncertain of one's role. Artists are sure of what they’ve witnessed though and may have a desire to create in response to it. Whatever that stimuli might be.
Why do you think art is important?
For the artist there is something gratifying about making something but for many it’s just like building a boat or a chair. It’s a good use of your time and is inspiring. Everyone dreams of figuring out how to do something grand with their spare time. We have this capability to do it even if it’s just a little time after work. Maybe it is our day job though that can vary with the creative elements in everyone's life. I think there is a creative component to everything. I think there is a misconception that its’ use ought to be primarily for an audience. Surely the greatest reward is in the making. It may be an exercise in problem solving and a great distraction from anxieties. You can get lost it and return to your daily routines with even more vigor. It’s great physical activity as well if you consider the time that is needed for good studio maintenance and preparation.
What do you think is the importance of supporting the arts?
Creative thinking and production should be encouraged. We devote a lot of time as consumers bidding for the same things. Art collectors are artists, it speaks highly of them to own work like well known publishers. In many ways they are making the greater contribution.
The following questions are intended to create insight about the artist’s current work and what they intend their audience to understand.
What research led you to your current body of work?
Well, I moved to Milwaukee in 2010. I’ve been painting Midwestern cities for about a decade and after a few visits I wanted to move here from Indianapolis, Indiana. I read a lot about the Menomonee Valley after photographing the area. The history of the transition of the Valley from a rice marsh to a slate and sand covered plain is very interesting. Of course now it’s the industrial trench of Milwaukee.
What has caused you to gravitate toward the materials and processes you are currently using?
I find that the paintings I work on have longer drying times when I use safflower oil. Earlier layers are quite malleable and you can make changes easily. It is a very reliable medium like walnut oil or linseed but has greater viscosity. I think a lot of painters would not like it though. It’s very difficult to control, but I love it. It really increases the amount of paint you use, by a lot, and many times the paint or the way it dries seems to look like it was applied the day before even, after a few years.
Which comes first, the medium or the idea?
The idea, but I usually stick with the same mediums.
What role does process have in your work?
Well this changes the most. I take my own photographs of each location. The painting process changes with each work, not entirely, but I take some measures that are a little uncommon. Sanding is one of them. Using scraping tools is another.
How do you know when a piece is complete?
Usually it’s a kind of abandonment. Though a happy one for the most part. I think this is the most difficult question for any artist working with a medium that can arrive at a place of resolution across a broad spectrum. More often than not some of the “scaffolding” is left in recent works. A sketchy rough-hewn quality that is, or an openendedness, where what I wanted to achieve in the composition seems to fit well and there’s an opportunity to see the last stretch without over or underworking each painting.
What is the one idea/thought you hope people will have/take away with them after viewing your work?
That we are fortunate to live in a highly populated city with historic remnants left over from our collective history. The place is saturated with these unique locations and the artists also have their influence on the historic record.