by Judith Walden
If you love art, and love painting, and your life brings you to relocate in Dallas Oregon, a place not noted for its art scene, what do you do? If you are Tom Kunke, you open an art gallery. Kunke holds a Master’s in Health Education from OSU, and spent over two decades teaching health and physical education at Warner Pacific College in southeast Portland. This seems to be an unusual resume for an artist and gallery owner, but his interest in and love of art is lifelong, and Kunke is ecstatic that this second career gives him the opportunity to do what he loves every day.
An accomplished self-taught artist who has exhibited his work in galleries in Portland and Salem, Kunke reports he spent years as a “closet painter” literally storing his work in a closet and showing it to no one. His wife and business partner Conni ended that, encouraging him to continue with his painting and show his work. She had owned a business before the gallery, and Kunke now credits her with being the “brains” of the operation, as well as being his biggest supporter.
Even when he wasn’t painting, Kunke was interested in art, studying the styles of artists, and admiring their use of art to express their individual styles. Kunke has developed his own signature style that doesn’t use a brush. Instead, he uses a palette knife to place multiple layers of paint onto the canvas, which he then scrapes off to reveal portions underneath. His work has been described as both abstract and primitive, but he is less interested in fitting a style than in making each canvas express the feelings that inspired it. Some of his works represent identifiable places and objects, and some are completely abstract, but Kunke’s love of color and texture is apparent in each of his pieces.
Although Dallas may not seem to be a first choice for location, Kunke, who grew up there, and is clearly fond of the town, states that there has been support for the gallery. “There is a hunger in the community for creative places” he says, pointing out that the surrounding wine country is a good fit for a gallery. He feels that Dallas is evolving and the gallery is “hoping to be part of it, and hoping they will encourage others to bring other stuff and ideas to Dallas.”
The gallery is also evolving, moving within a couple years from Kunke showing only his work to featuring a selection of other local artists as well. Regularly contributing artists are watercolor painter Lori Beck, potter John Beck, fused glass artist Chris Martin, jeweler Jane Field, and wood worker Tom Balsbaugh. Kunke is excited about the latest step, a plan to have local feature artists showing on a 2-3 month rotation. Each new show will open with a reception. The current featured artist is award winning painter Nancy Eng. A reception for this show is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 5th. from 6-8 pm. The exhibit will run through March. Gallery hours are Tuesday thru Thursday, 1 pm to 5 pm and Saturday by appointment. www.tomkunkeart.com.