The Pomonan: Painter Friedrich Kunath Feels His Way Home

February 2, 2023

Trina Calderón

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The place we call home usually refers to where we lay our head every night to sleep, a permanent location used as a mailing address. But the idea of home can be vast and German painter Friedrich Kunath uses his feelings to find the connection in his new exhibit, I Don't Know The Place, But I Know How To Get There, showing at Blum & Poe, January 14th through February 25th, 2023.

Reckoning his coming-of-age experiences in Germany with living in America for almost eighteen years, he’s still finding his habitual presence. While it’s impossible for anywhere to be the same after COVID, and perhaps subconsciously this motivated him to relocate his family back to Germany last summer, he was nonetheless inspired to return “home” only to immediately find himself disparaged. He related, “I had a constant feeling I would do something, but I was forcing myself to go on walks, read poetry, and then I watched TV all day, went straight into depression and immediately found out I can never go back home, as they say.” 

Coming back to Los Angeles didn’t feel like home either but Kunath went into the studio with these deflated ideas and got to work with questions. “Is my life in the panting? Is me working on these paintings somewhat of a house that I inhibit?” he wondered. Indeed, his paintings are a backdrop for these thoughts with imaginative influence from Russian, German Romantic, and Hudson River school landscapes. In his existential search for pure consciousness, he explains this state of creative life in an exhibition of large witty pastoral paintings and a bright installation that reveals the bones of his storytelling process. 

In the release for the show, Kunath includes the beautiful poem “Abendlied” by German artist Hanns Dieter Hüsch, which begins:

Butterfly is coming home
Little bear is coming home
Kangaroo is coming home
The lights aglow, the day is done. 

There is a fun and whimsical element to Kunath’s homecoming crisis. Found in the short phrases of text he writes in small details on top of a painting or the cartoon characters that inhabit other images, he’s able to find humor in the darkness, and even nostalgia in his negated notions of place. In Coming Home Was As Beautiful As Going Away, the view out of the window on a plane is a contemplative view we’ve all seen many times. A moment we’re just existing inside the puffy clouds in the sky, in transit, high above everything serious and real. Breaking through this familiarity, he’s written the title in cute, tiny letters drifting off the edge of the wing. The words are playful yet dangerous as they fly off into the distant sky. There’s an absurd comfort in appreciating this view. 

This meditation persists throughout Kunath’s work. I Could Easily See Myself Spending A Whole Month This Way features a man floating faced down, with the title written on top of the pool of water. He appears both relaxed and drowning, with an eerie color scheme of pale off yellow green masquerading as blue water. Who doesn’t like the ease of floating freely, but it’s also just cold and dark enough to make you think of drowning this way. The idea brings his existential perspective into a simpler composition, yet romantic still in the feel of the water, the waves, and the texture on top of the paint that appears like ripples. It’s the soul of the show in many ways, using his well-honed techniques to create a mood that goes on forever. 

I Know I Need A Small Vacation is a more abstract landscape concept, playing with a stable of German and American pop culture symbols like Smurfs, a Porsche, Disneyesque cartoon animals, and the magical surreal doorway to heaven. Here clouds take different shapes than in his other landscapes, rendered in outlines and primary colors. They’re vehicles in all his paintings, implying movement, ethereal travel, and even an environmental spiritualism. The leaf outlines feel like fallen leaves blowing in the wind of an imaginary trip somewhere, anywhere, as though all the fun characters need to go too. Goofy even has his suitcase on this journey for a cartoony home ground.

In the romantic spirit of feeling connected to a journey more than the destination, Kunath completes his exhibit with the large installation, All Your Fears Trapped Inside. Pulling together personal ephemera, fine art, and collected objects from 2019-2023, the audience peers inside a window to consider how he composes his paintings. “It’s a whole thing to look for stuff that I feel understands me. I’m drawn to it and sometimes I don’t know why. I like to surround myself with these things and after all these years, that shit in there marinates you and makes me do the work I do here. That’s one aspect, and the other is I was thinking a lot about Picasso’s last paintings when the artist is behind the glass and basically paints that in a weird way. It’s a version of them also, but the artist is behind something. For me, I don’t think of this as much as different than that,” Kunath explained. 

The natural processes of the artworks carry a sense of merry enchantment to the notion of not knowing where home may be. Kunath is happiest creating in a state of half-knowing, with a spirited practice that is contrary to understanding everything. A song that always reminds me of these same kind of ideas of home is Talking Heads, This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) which starts:

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, burn with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground

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