Florida may be old news to many, but it can still be rather exotic. Especially where Keith Gunderson paints.
One of Gunderson’s favorite places to paint is the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, located in Naples, Florida. “It was an overgrown orange grove — a rich family donated the property to the state and they turned it into a conservancy,” says Gunderson. “In a way it is what Florida looks like if you just leave it alone. It has a pristine authenticity that if you have just visited Florida you would describe as pretty awesome. I hate to use that word, but it is the right one.”
Aside from its primeval appeal, the area has multiple motifs. “I love that there is this confluence of water, land, and sky, and an interesting variation in the natural foliage,” he says. “It has this great confluence of palmettos and slash pine and the hammock ecosystem that gives you that sense of the exotic. You can invent the composition from the variety of trees. You can use reflections and play around with the different kinds of vegetation.”
Gunderson says he is thrilled by the colors of the landscape, from hazy skies to rich red bougainvillea blossoms. “In Florida you can push the color beyond mimicry and it will actually evoke the place more accurately than you could with the correct values,” says the artist. “If you matched it, it would not look like the place.” But the abstract quality of the scenes also has a very strong appeal for Gunderson. “The tall-trunked pines are amazingly abstract,” he says. “You see in Inness paintings the tall trees presented in very abstract shapes. And so they can be here; the branches and shape of the trees create negative spaces against the sky that you don’t see in any other place. If you just look at it as trees, or botany, you won’t see that the trees are breaking up the negative spaces into abstraction.”
Other artists have reported some interesting encounters with wildlife while painting Florida’s open spaces, but Gunderson says aside from some critical monkeys throwing their scat at him one time, and the rather pedestrian and regular attack of biting insects, he has only had one scare. “I was painting in the late afternoon, and the sun was going down, when suddenly I heard a cat roar,” he recalls. “It felt like it was just yards away. It was loud. The first thing I thought was that there was a Florida panther nearby. Then I realized it was a lion from the nearby Naples Zoo!”