To paint the world might seem like a vain pursuit, but that is exactly what artists do. Each in their own way, they show this domain, and thereby claim it in miniature, making the world their own. Even at art’s most expansive, this is, of course, a fiction. The world is illimitable, ungraspable. It is just that fact that makes art so poignant and emotionally real–the attempt to perceive and experience reality through each individual self.

In the art of Glenn Tunstull, the variability of water, light, and color itself are the ungraspable aspects of the world that recur in almost every painting. The spectacle of sunset skies and the play of light on calm seas are two of his favored motifs. It is the liminal qualities of these scenes that seem to most intrigue the artist, the states of being that are unnameable because they are always in flux.

Early on, Tunstull was an especially deft watercolorist, recording the world before him. But coming into his own as a painter has meant that his abstract vision has asserted itself, partly in response to an essential imperative of his art–coming to terms with what is beyond imagery itself, an intangible encounter with a reality that is both outward and sensory, and inward and transporting. Even in the paintings one would not describe as abstract, such as the beautiful Menemsha Sunset, the essential qualities of form, light, and evocative color reach the viewer directly. Similarly, in Dawn on Vineyard Harbor, the viewer has the sense of apprehending the freshness of reality as expressed in this particular instance of time and place.

In this context, Tunstull’s interest in a more abstract vision of the world is especially clear. The sky, water, or beaches in the abstract paintings are reminders that the world is on one level not a collection of identities but an experience of qualities. Tunstull has developed a language of pixilated atoms, often roughly rectangular or square blocks of color. At times regular in size, and at times variable, these dabs operate like the tesserae of a mosaic to build up composite, gradating color zones. They coalesce into recognizable images and then break apart into pure sensation. Tunstull’s atoms are capable of finely rendered scenes and nearly digitalized abstractions, like the painting A Midsummer’s Eve.

Glenn Tunstull is an artist who has claimed the world in the many places he has painted, and yet his real work seems to be allowing himself to be claimed by the world, to be overtaken by the fundamental aspects of its beauty.

John Mendelsohn


John Mendelsohn has written articles and reviews on contemporary art for Cover Magazine, ArtNet Magazine, and The Jewish Week, as well as essays for exhibition catalogues. He taught at Illinois State University and the University of South Florida, and he currently teaches in the Studio Art Program at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He has contributed entries to the forthcoming book, A Dictionary of Symbolic Images, to be published by the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism at the C.G. Jung Institute, New York.