Artist Don Munson’s 50-year career. “It’s the allegorical stories that I’m trying to tell that are the real driving force.”
Artist Don Munson lives in a town reminiscent of Norman Rockwell’s America, worked as a publishing-industry art director in the post-Mad Men milieu of Manhattan, and teaches college students graphic design. His work assimilates, but then transcends, those powerful influences to illuminate abstracted essential truths with a masterful visual language built on line and color.
“I am passionately in love with line, form, and color,” Munson says while discussing his work in his attic studio in Longmeadow, Massachusetts — work that embodies the “tension between realism and abstraction” and stretches from New York City facades and a largely realistic “Barn Series” to a powerful series of abstract paintings titled “Stations” and newer abstract works inspired by Morse code and runic letterforms.
“It’s the allegorical stories that I’m trying to tell that are the real driving force,” the artist says of his range and body of work.
Munson’s approachability belies the accomplishments he has accumulated in a career spanning more than 50 years: work in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); a Grammy nomination for designing the Chicago VI album cover; 12 set paintings for the 1974 Broadway musical Over Here! featuring the Andrews Sisters; tenure as vice president and art director of Ballantine/Del Rey/Fawcett Books at Random House; an Chesley Award from the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists for Best Artistic Director; and seven original typeface designs, including a font used for the novel Gorky Park. (Munson also recounts collaborating with Salvador Dali on a MoMA Junior Council project to create blank writing cards, and says, “Josef Albers was critiquing my color work as a 17-year-old.”)
Not surprisingly given that list of accomplishments, Munson has not one but two opportunities for fans to view his magnetically radiant paintings, drawings, and more.
An exhibit titled Evolution: Don Munson, Fifty Years of Painting runs through Nov. 28 at the Richard Salter Storrs Library in Longmeadow. Among the works are some of the “Stations” paintings, based on the Stations of the Cross but with the artist “witnessing this thing as a civilian spectator,” Munson says, and offering a “secular abstract view of a religious passage.”
The show comprises the Longmeadow Cultural Council’s second annual local artist spotlight, and Munson was honored at a reception Nov. 19 that featured a raffle whose prize was an original painting from Munson’s “Barn Series.”
Barns and the seasons along the Connecticut River star in the second show, Memories – Architecture & Barns, which runs through Jan. 30, 2016, at The Wood Library & Museum in South Windsor, Connecticut. A reception with Munson featuring music, wine, and hors d’oeuvres is scheduled for Jan. 15.
In addition to paintings, the show features drawings and archival photographs. “I literally took a notebook apart to show how it all works,” Munson says of one piece in the show, whose images were inspired by the “unique feelings” barns engender. “Their presence is visually provocative,” Munson writes.
“I’m just exploring constantly,” says the artist, who is finalizing details for exhibits of the works inspired by Morse code and runic letterforms while at the same time working on a new series called “Nineism,” which integrates shapes and numbers in exploring “the idea of repeating something without it becoming a pattern.
“I just bring stuff together,” Munson says. “I see no boundaries … I’m very much a classical painter, as abstract as it may be.”