Before steampunk, there was Richard Bunkall's imagination

A painting on the wall depicts a whale floating in the air through a building's entryway. Nearby is a highly detailed sculpture that plays with classic architecture.
This is Richard Bunkall's world: a place that is ancient, yet futuristic at the same time. The out of place feels at home.
Bunkall's work has an "overlay of something that seems almost Old Master-ish with something that seems very modern, which gives it a dreamlike quality, not a surrealist quality necessarily, but a quality of things happening from different times at the same time," said Peter Frank, an art critic and the curator of the exhibit, "Richard Bunkall: A Portrait," on display at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through April 22.
The show looks through selective slices from the Pasadena-based artist's 25-year career of paintings, drawings and sculptures.
Bunkall studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and later taught painting there for 20 years. For his work's subject matter, Bunkall focused on architecture, painting and sculpting studies and variations on buildings in New York, Paris, Los Angeles and other big cities. His pieces could be considered borderline steampunk today for their mix of classic and fantastic styles, which evoke a H.G. Wells or Jules Verne feel. In 1994, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease). Bunkall died in May 1999 at age 45.
"Beyond providing people the pleasure

of looking at Bunkall's world, the exhibit is simply to aver that Bunkall was a profoundly distinctive artist, who could manage seeming thoroughly strange and thoroughly familiar at the same time," Frank said. "I consider Richard a weaver of the gentlest, most enticing and certainly unlikeliest of fantasies."
Bunkall continued to paint until just before his death. As the ALS progressed, he would find ways to work around his weakening body, changing the way he held his paintbrush and, later, having the brush taped to his hand.
As the trial to create grew, Bunkall rose to the occasion, upping the challenge by making larger paintings and more intricate carvings, Frank said. He also became more inventive in his processes, both in making art and in coming up with the ideas he wanted to bring to fruition.
"You do get a sense of him letting himself go in the last series, letting himself be so surreal, letting his imagination take off," Frank said.


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