Gavin Bunner’s Gardens (and Hillsides) of Earthly Delights

Satirical. Sexual? Sensical and non… Gavin Bunner’s (NAP #65 & #97) paintings are flat out funny, farcical, and intelligent.  Growing out of his earlier experimentation with watercolors and humorous juxtapositions, Bunner began creating larger compositions in which he inundates the viewer and field with likely and unlikely pairings from pop-culture and the larger media oversoul: Google. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Gavin Bunner | Easter Egg Hunt, 44.5in x 30in, 2009

Using Google image searches as source inspiration, he begins by searching images from one general terms such as “Easter Egg Hunt” and then floods the visual field with the highs and lows from the results.  Studying his pieces for sometime, viewers can discover the many art historical, political, and satirical referents scattered and hidden throughout.  The paintings offer humor in a time and age that really needs it, and I think it would be hard to not enjoy his work and his subtle jokes embedded in links throughout the interview.

“Easter Egg Hunt” Google Image Search

Ellen Caldwell: At first glance, your paintings have a simplified, flatter aesthetic, but there are so many fantastic things going on inside the details.  What first led you to the gouache/Sharpie combo and how does it help you express and reach your desired goals? 

Gavin Bunner: Initially, I was making smaller watercolors.  They consisted of just one gag, accomplished through the juxtaposition of different images that I sourced from online.   They are very similar to the gouache pieces that followed, but when I realized that you have to apply to everything with just four slides [images of artwork]: I also realized no one was going to really grasp what I was doing only seeing four small juxtapositions. So I began thinking about making them into bigger scenes where the scene itself was the subject and the juxtapositions were informing it.  This allowed me to incorporate many would-be watercolor gags into one piece, giving the viewer a better understanding of my work as a whole when only four pieces could be viewed.

Gavin Bunner | Situations where arms are raised, watercolor

I initially started to paint the bigger scenes with the same watercolors I had been using, but found rendering that many differently sourced images together didn't read as quickly or clearly as a joke should read.  I had recently bought a set of Windsor Newton Designer Gouache (plug) as an alternative to using acrylic in producing flat shapes of color, and started to experiment with using gouache instead of watercolor.  The biggest problem was what to use for the outlines in gouache drawings, as the handy #2 pencil outlines of the previous watercolors didn't quite sit right with the super flat aesthetic of gouache.  The big breakthrough came when I used sharpie outlines on a tracing of ABBA and then colored it in with gouache.  The un-authored and un-expressive line of the felt tipped sharpie tracing combined with the super flatness of gouache, gave the piece the super deadpan read I had been looking for.

I like the deadpan presentation because all the narratives in the piece cannot have too much projected onto them that I didn't intend.   Instead everything is interpreted rather matter of fact-ly, allowing for a more concise analysis of the function and intention of the individual parts of the pieces.  I also prefer the deadpan delivery of the narrative jokes as it keeps them from having any obnoxious overtones.  I also like combining high art materials and office supplies as a joke in itself and an acknowledgment that art is more then its materials.

Gavin Bunner | Police Line Up, 11 panels, 15in x 9in, 2011

EC: In NAP #97, you reference your process for photographic inspirations (the Google image search) and I really love that.  I used Google image searches for so much these days -- to illustrate a point about stereotypes when teaching, or to make detailed background scenes for invitations or holiday cards -- so I am intrigued by this process.  Do your search words always correspond to the painting's title?  How did you come up with this process?

GB: I do searches based on the title and things that I think are associated with the title.  For example: if I'm doing “Forest”, I'm going to search for associated things such as camping, tents, bears etc. in addition to just the word forest.

The main benefit I've found to using such a large database to gather your source material is that in the hundreds of images that appear you discover things that you haven't thought of and rediscover things you had forgotten about.  It also eliminates a great deal of misinterpretation in the work as I am only using the most common images of the things I am depicting.  For example: when I pick a picture of tractor, I'm not picking an odd tractor from my own experiences that no one else is going to readily understand; instead I am picking the tractor that is the most easily understood by everyone, so my audience can realize what it is and move onto why it's there.

Gavin Bunner | RollerRink, 44.5in x 30in, 2009

In how I came up with the process I owe a huge credit to my professor, Melissa Oresky.  When I was taking her advanced drawing class in college, one of the early assignments was designed to get us to start collecting and combing found images.  The assignment was to find ten images and make three drawings using them.  One drawing was to make the images the scale they would be in relation to each other in real life.  Another was to make them scale to each other according to their importance in the drawing, and the last was to make them the same scale you found them in the source images in relation to each other.  This assignment resulted in two big breakthroughs for me.  The first was that I used Google Image Search to find my images (it is after all the largest image collection in the world), and the second was that I decided it was stupid to hand draw an image the same size as its source, and instead just traced my found images together for the third drawing.  I've been doing it ever since.

Inside Bunner’s studio: work in progress

EC: What art inspires you now and how has it impacted your work?

GB: I'm a huge fan of Alison Byrnes.  Her work is so smart and funny.  It’s similar to my work, but more Wikipedia than Google. Ester Pearl Watson (also featured in NAP #97) is making awesome modern day Americana.  Michael Hsiung makes side splittingly hilarious drawings.  Megan Whitmarsh uses brighter colors than I do and I can't get enough of the Boombox YetiBill Conger and Adam Farcus are making the most poetic Artworks I've ever seen.  Dan Mrva is constantly coming up with exciting new ways to paint, and Daniel Bainbridge is making sculptures that look and seem like they are going to kill you.  The ideas in their works are the ones I get the most excited about and are the ones that make me the most excited to make my own work.

As far as the art that directly impacted the development of my work the most, I would have to say Bill Waterson really made me want to draw.  Marcel Dzama and Henry Darger really changed my mind on what a painting could look like, and Martin Handford came up with one of the most clever ways to get people to search through an art piece.

STUDIO: Work in progress: Hill painting

STUDIO: Hill detail

STUDIO: Bunner and wallpaper sample

STUDIO: Wallpaper detail

STUDIO: Google Search in progress

STUDIO: Watercolor in progress

EC: Yes, your paintings do have a Waldo-esque air about them at times!  Do you think you will continue with similar themes and subjects for your next show and future pieces?

GB: My previous solo shows weren't themed at all, they were just a collection of works, but I have been toying around with some new ideas for the next one.  Currently I am thinking of doing a sports themed show: titled “Sports,” which I like as a title, as it is both straight forward and a tip of the cap to Huey Lewis and the News.  I have also been working on a very, very large piece titled “The Future” which would be a show all in itself.  Of course, at the moment, I have no gallery representation to pitch these ideas too, so if you are reading this and have a gallery with an open slot on your calendar, call me.  I have a long and steady sales record as well as critical appeal.

Bunner in Studio

Gavin Bunner’s work has been featured in New American Paintings in 2006 and most recently in 2011.  In 2009, his show “It’s a Mad, Mad World” opened at the former Tinlark Gallery.  You can check out his smaller and earlier watercolors on his blog Hatercolors Daily and his newer and larger gouache paintings on his Flickr phostream.


Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer


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