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Charles Munch’s ‘Human Nature’

Tory Folliard Gallery becomes a place between the surreal and the literal

Nov. 8, 2016
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You might think of “human nature” as conjuring our many predilections, for better or worse, for good or ill, in various physical and emotional capacities. The artist Charles Munch (pronounced “munch” as in to nibble on something, which is in contrast to the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, pronounced more akin to “monk”) explores this idea. Charles Munch’s work is on view now at Tory Folliard Gallery in his exhibition titled “Human Nature. 

Working in the traditional medium of oil paint on canvas, he pictures various scenes of people in woodlands. Men with children, women in the presence of deer, and lakeside landscapes form the basis for his compositions, but the approach is what makes things interesting. Paging through the catalogue of his work, Charles Munch: Dreaming In Color, Paintings 1971-2006 reveals the evolution of a straightforward figurative painter into one who works in a place between Surrealism and, if there be such a thing, Literalism, with an added dash of dark humor at times.

As described in the exhibition text, “these deceptively simple landscapes envision a world where nature’s balance is restored.” This attitude is present but subtle. The man in Pushing Off is poised at the shore of a lake, exuding physical strain. Around him, trees on the opposite shore extend into the pale blue water as effortless reflections. The land and people in his paintings are outlined, flat, and deny the touch of light and shadow that typically denote three-dimensional definition. In this pared-down sensibility, the primacy of nature is emphasized. Munch’s style is full of unmediated observations.

The scale of the works changes. Large versions are displayed along with smaller reductions in another room. The placement does not detract from the pieces, however. Jumper I is shown first and comes as a surprise. A deer in a nighttime woods leaps dreamlike over a girl crouched on the forest floor. In the latter gallery is the larger version, as though extending the tale. 

Augmenting these works are pieces by additional artists in the gallery’s repertoire, including lyrical pieces by Mark Mulhern and Fred Stonehouse and others.

Through Nov. 26 at Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St.

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