Lime interview - Exhibitions
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Born in 1943, Harold Klunder is one of Canada's leading painters. Klunder was born just two years before the Second World War in the Netherlands. His family moved to Canada in the early fifties after the war was over.
Klunder paints large, vivid abstract paintings, which he describes as an alternative approach to the self portrait and each one can take years to complete. His works are held in public and private collections throughout the world including the National Gallery of Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. Klunder kindly took time out of his hectic schedule to discuss his story and his thoughts on success with me.
You studied at the Central Technical School in Toronto?
HK: Yes, that’s right. Those kind of schools are less popular now, but it’s kind of like the Slade school where you are not learning how to think so much, but you are more involved in the actual workings of things like how to use a brush, how to mix colour, how to see colour and that kind of thing.
What made you decide to study painting?
HK: From a very early age I was interested in drawing and my family were very sports oriented. I was more interested in culture in general . Not to be cultured, but to look at paintings and listen to music. I was drawing from when I was eight or nine. I didn’t know quite where it was going but then when I was around 13, I just started painting, without knowing what I was doing and with cheap found materials. My parents had a farm in Hamilton which is just over an hour from Toronto. My art school was in Toronto so I left the farm when I was 17 to go to art school That was a good choice actually, because I didn’t have any interest in high school.
You had your first solo show in 1976?
Yes that is right.
At what point did you become a full time professional artist existing purely from you art work?
I would say 1972 roughly. Basically, it all started to make sense when I was connected with the Jared Sable Gallery- a very good gallery in Canada.
What challenges would you say that you have faced along the way to becoming full time?
Well the challenges were partly to get people to understand the work I think. I have never really looked at success as being about money, it is more whether I am realising what I want to realise in the work and hopefully, you make enough money to buy supplies to keep going. I guess I started to be a success in the mid seventies, if you want to call it success, feeling OK about your own work. My first interest has always been to do the work and feel comfortable with the work and hopefully, that attracts others. I guess I assumed I would not make any money and I would be free. I would not have to be on the freeway at five in the morning. The concept of being free was a really important thing to me.
It sounds like your definition of success is more to do with feeling free, feeling comfortable with your work, knowing and understanding your work and for other people to understand the work, rather than financial success.
Yes, that is true. I mean, I use the money as I make money.
By your definition of success, do you consider yourself to be successful at this point?
Yes I do actually. Of course, my work still has anxiety, so I am not completely satisfied at every turn. But for the most part, I feel like I am going in a direction which is directed by me rather than anyone else, so in that sense, I am thrilled at how things have gone.
Many people seem to have this notion of the starving artist. Was that ever your experience?
No, not really. My dad thought I was a dreamer, but my mother was very supportive. My father didn’t understand the work, but he understood success in the larger picture of someone actually making money from what they do. I probably did struggle, but it wasn’t really a miserable life. If I had to take a job I would. I have done things like pick apples, pick tobacco, I have worked in a steel plant and various other things to get through art school. So in the early 70’s, I did lots of different things. But I never thought of it as hardship or anything!
You have paintings in public and private collections globally and have been exhibiting consistently since 1976, what would you say was your biggest success to date in your career?
I sold a large painting to the National Gallery in Canada in 2007. It is eight and a half feet high by 24 feet wide.
How did the National Gallery sale come about?
Through Clint Roenisch, who was my dealer at the time. He is from Toronto. Probably the best dealer in Canada I would say. Essentially it was Clint Roenisch who really pushed for it because he felt strongly that it should be in the National Gallery and that was a great thrill for me!
I can imagine! How much did they pay for it if you don’t mind me asking?
It was a lot, six figures.
Wow! How much of that went to the dealer?
It was 50:50. I don’t mind paying that amount. I mean, it was a huge chunk of money.
Is your price range in the region of what you sold the piece to the National Gallery for?
Yes, well that work is very large and as weird as it is, things are priced according to the scale of the work. A small work is always less than a large work, but its sort of in that range.
That is impressive! What is your ultimate dream for your work?
My ambition is that people are with me as I continue. I am going to be 70 soon, so I would like to think I have got 20 years left! I am quite OK with how things are going. It is every artists ambition to somehow be remembered when they go. It is like this thing that hangs in the air and keeps us pushing really hard. I sort of think that if some things don’t happen when you are alive, they may well happen after you are gone.
What advice would you give to young artists wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Work hard and somehow figure out how to enjoy painting, the actual act of painting. Think of the finished result as just incidental or just a one day thing. Try to get to know dealers without pushing yourself, in terms of wanting something from them. If you have an interest in their artists, then they can imagine that you might fit in. Mostly, just do the painting. Do the work because that is the most fundamental, important thing to an artist. The rest is by the by.
Info: Harold Klunder is represented by Clint Roenisch