NSCAD grad turns playthings into paintings

Gunn's work featured in the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art

The creatures Gunn created as models for his painting: The Myth of Silliness. (Photo: Heather Gillis)

A Halifax man has accomplished a feat that takes many artists a decade or more to achieve: one of his paintings is on display in Toronto at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. And he's fresh out of art school.

Adam Gunn, 33, discovered his love for art during a drawing exercise in a Grade 5 art class.

"I started drawing all the time then," says Gunn. "My grandfather would sit down for me and I would draw him, and I drew the objects around him."

Art runs in the Gunn family, his mother was an art teacher. "I'm sure that has a lot to do with it," he says.

Gunn wins competition

This summer Gunn was named the winner of the BMO 1st Art! competition for Nova Scotia. That is how his painting, The Myth of Silliness, came to be at the museum.

The painting, an oil-on-wood still life, is painted in the classical Dutch and Flemish style, which contrasts the characters it depicts. "The seriousness of the painting process contrasts with the whimsical and ridiculous nature of the figures," he says in his artist's statement.

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NSCAD graduate Adam Gunn, this year’s winner of the BMO 1st Art! Competition. (Photo: Heather Gillis)

Gunn graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine art from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in April. He says studying at NSCAD took his art to higher level, helped him find his voice and encouraged him to embrace the theme of absurdity and whimsicality that characterizes his work.

A painting exercise at NSCAD, like the exercise that sparked Gunn's love for art, inspired him to paint The Myth of Silliness.

Students picked toys from a box and created a narrative with them. Gunn says he used an aqua-coloured chicken body and a set of chattering teeth as a head to create a creature he describes as "something I'd never seen before."

That creature didn't make it into his final painting, but he used the idea to create the figures that did.

From playthings to paintings 

Gunn constructed creatures from dollar-store toys and built a still life with them. He painted in layers, starting with the background and shadows.

"It's a very rich, lushly painted painting, which also is interesting and a little bit monstrous and humorous, all rolled into one," says Matthew Reichertz, Gunn's former studio adviser at NSCAD.

Reichertz nominated Gunn for the award because he "created a strong painting."

Dawn Cain, curator for the BMO Financial Group, says submitted artwork is evaluated on the mastery of the medium, viewer response and the originality and creativity of the piece. Gunn's painting "stood out," she says.

The Myth of Silliness was on exhibit in the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art until the end of October. Gunn says the award has increased interest in his artwork.

Gunn is now using his mastery of art to inspire others. He is teaching the foundation of art and design at the Centre of Arts and Technology in Halifax.


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