We spoke with Judith Kunzle on another impossibly blue-skied, puffy-clouded day at her home on Rarotonga, in The Cook islands.
Experiencing her work was part of our introduction to The Cook Islands, and to the two parts of its culture which have found expression in her art: drawing and dance.
She is in fact the premier artist of Cook Islands [and in fact Polynesian] dance, with works in galleries and private collections all over the world, and with a following that regularly reaches out to her on the World Wide Web.
We are here to explore with her the origins of her work, and the direction that it is presently taking.
When did you begin to draw?
When I was a child in Switzerland. I was completely taken by and involved with horses, and fascinated by their movement. I was drawing them daily, from memory, and always in action, trotting or running. Their magnificence for me was their combination of grace and size. Cats are graceful, and elephants are large, but horses are beautifully both.
Are there connections between that time and this, in your drawings of dancers?
I realize that my attachment has always been to life and movement. The work to first capture living movement by sketching from life and later to convey it by working from the sketches in the studio, has been the joy of my artistic life. Because I work from sketches and memory, never photographs, I have been as much focused on the mystery of feeling – of touch – in living movement, as I have been on any particular expression of it… whether it be contemporary dance, Tango, or the many varieties of Polynesian dance, including, especially, Cook Islands dance.
You have many subjects besides dance, from landscape to highly detailed plants and animals to people in the street in China or Patagonia. How do they figure [pardon the pun] in your vision of life and movement?
[Laughing] That is a completely appropriate pun, since my work can be experienced as figures, as bodies in action, be it a mountain or a papaya or a head of a person, but there is so much more, and right on the surface, for all to see and feel.
Like the visual sensation of touch, of tactile interaction with my work and with its subjects. From the time that I became a serious artist, long before I discovered Cook Islands dance, I have not been satisfied to only represent, to only “make a picture” of a person or thing.
The effort to recreate the presence of nature is always humbling, because nature is the ultimate artist, and trying to reproduce it always falls short, is bound to fail.
And the effort to interpret nature is a poetic, worthy one, but that has never been what I have tried to do.
Which is what?
I want to convey the experience of personal interaction. I want to put on paper my own participation in the action of my subjects, and project it through the lens of my technique.
Tell us about your technique.
For instance, when you look at Female Drum Dancer [left], note that there is no background, she is suspended in space – there is no “floor” either – but she is firmly rooted to the “ground,” by which I mean not only to the floor that our minds imagine under her, but to the conceptual space that surrounds her and the imagination of the viewer. That space is the viewer’s space, not “hers”.
Those creative choices – and those which represent her body and her movement – give the viewer not a picture of another person, this faraway dancer, in a faraway time, but our dancer, on this page, right now.
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