Karel Funk

Works in the exhibition

Galerie Division is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Winnipeg-based artist Karel Funk.

Funk’s subjects demand close examination.  Painted with uncanny precision, their vitreous flesh and micro-weave technical-wear draw the viewer in.  On the other hand, they emit a cool inscrutability.  Withdrawn beneath headphones and hoods, the sitters face enigmatically away, closing their eyelids as if to savour a precious solitude.  Funk’s paintings have drawn comparisons to Renaissance portraiture, with its thinly-glazed surfaces and candid ¾ views.  But while Renaissance masters mirrored the humanist values of their age, emphasizing facial expressions and personal style, Funk raises questions about individuality’s place in our current era.  Stranded at oblique angles, lost in hi-fi, and rendered in plastic-based parkas with plastic-based paint, his subjects suggest the detached individualism of a globalized world.

Funk’s sitters’ heads are often larger-than-life-sized, giving us a disorienting feeling of being too close and seeing too much of the people in question.  Thus magnified, their earlobes, hair follicles, and imperfect skin take on a foreign, voyeuristic quality.  This frisson of unreciprocated personal connection is exactly what the sitters seem to shy from, their thoughts focused elsewhere behind an armour of Gore-Tex and smart phones.  Funk has compared his subjects to the people we find ourselves thrust up against in elevators or mass-transit.  While such encounters are familiar to us all, never as explicitly as in Funk’s work are we given licence to look.   A master of vertiginous detail, the artist suspends us between feelings of closeness and remoteness, warmth and coolness, history and present-day.

Funk’s subjects have retreated further over his career, their bodies pivoting away to conceal all but their jacket-clad backs.  Alienated and alien-like, these dorsal portraits border on pure abstraction.  In recent paintings, Funk forgoes the figure altogether, zeroing in on fabric and enfolding the last vestiges of subject matter in stuff-sacks of colour and form.  His metamorphosis away from figuration toward abstraction and still-life suggest the endurance of matter beyond that of human life.  Funk is of Dutch origin, and his ancestors’ 16th and 17th century Vanitas paintings of skulls, rotten fruit and other emblems of impermanence aptly presage his own.  However, the cacti and skulls in Funk’s neo-Vanitas are dollar-store replicas, trinkets built of plastic and destined to outlast us all.  For all their ambiguity, a muted spirituality attends Funk’s paintings, his patient hand a reminder that the time we take to look is all the time we have.

Funk received his MFA from Columbia University, New York.  His work can be found in many prestigious collections, including those of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO),the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montreal.  The Musée d’art contemporain held a solo exhibition of the artist’s work in 2007 and a major survey is planned for 2016 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). 

For more information on the artist