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Gazette Premium Content Colorado Springs museum showcases the works of painter Charles Bunnell

By Jen Mulson Published: June 11, 2013

Early 20th-century painter Charles Bunnell learned all the rules, and then deliberately broke them.

For instance, "Contrasts" is one of his early pieces from 1928. Pikes Peak looms largely in the background, in hues of purple and green, and in the foreground, a row of houses decorates the spacious fields. The painter's brushstrokes are clear and deliberate, and give a sense of movement to the environment.

That early work lies in direct contrast to a much later landscape - "Abstract Cityscape," in 1951. Bunnell translates a city skyline into sheer abstraction, with just a hint of the tall buildings disguised as jagged rectangular shapes in dark rust and forest green shades. Unlike "Contrasts," the subject of the painting is almost unrecognizable. In a new Fine Arts exhibit, "Charles Bunnell: Rocky Mountain Modern," is up at the Fine Arts Center runs through Sept. 15 at the FAC. It's part of the center's "Legacy Series," the first of which was the 2011 exhibit "Sandz? in Colorado."

More than 75 of his works are hung in chronological order in "Rocky Mountain Moderm." The visual journey shows a man with an innate curiosity about the techniques and style of his fellow artists, like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell.

"Bunnell took art in Colorado along the next steps," Milteer says.

The painter (pronounced buhn-nell), who lived in Colorado Springs between Garden of the Gods park and what is now Red Rock Canyon open space, attended the Broadmoor Art Academy (renamed the Fine Arts Center in 1935) during the 1920s. The academy was a one-of-a-kind facility west of the Mississippi - a stronghold in teaching traditional art, says Blake Milteer, museum director at the Fine Arts Center.

It was here Bunnell studied under the American impressionist painter Ernest Lawson and Boardman Robinson, a painter, cartoonist and muralist. Bunnell became an instructor at the academy in 1929. He spent most of his life in Colorado Springs, which became the primary subject matter in his work, and passed away in 1968 at the age of 71.

The early years of his career show straightforward portraits, including one of his mother, and Impressionist-style landscape paintings that use the "crushed jewel" effect, short brushstrokes, he learned from Lawson, Milteer says.

"Artists push on themselves, experimenting and often adopting the best and most useful parts of what others are doing," Milteer says.

That experimenting is clear in his work, as he moved on to the techniques of Paul C?anne, a Post-Impressionist painter, by breaking up shapes and segmenting landscapes. He dipped into the language of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque's Cubism in the mid-1930s, and the 40s took him into the world of surrealism. Finally, in the 50s, Bunnell moved wholeheartedly into pure abstract expressionism, a genre in which he stayed for the last 20 years of his life. It was the best way he found to provide emotive capacity in his work, Milteer says.

None of the images on the canvas were recognizable - precisely what the artist intended.

In an artist statement, Bunnell writes: "Art to me is a search: In other words, a way of living. I have painted for 35 years going through many phases from realism and portraiture to, I feel, advanced modern concepts, where the observer can, by looking at my paintings, become a creator as well as I. In other words, my viewer can see what he feels in my work."

"What was unique about him," Milteer says, "is you can see him try and succeed at most of the 'isms' of modern art - impressionism, cubism, realism, surrealism, abstract expressionism."

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Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.

"charles bunnell: rocky mountain modern"

When: Open through Sept. 15

Where: Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.

Tickets: $10, $8.50 seniors 62 and older, military and students with ID and kids age 5-17, free ages 4 and younger; 634-5583, csfineartscenter.org

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