Karen Gunderson

The Dark World of Light

Release Date
Format Hardcover 35,647 words 252 pages 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches 25 Ounces More than 100 illustrations
ISBN-13 978-0-78921-232-0

The first comprehensive monograph on contemporary artist Karen Gunderson written by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Frank.

Widely collected in Hollywood and New York, artist Karen Gunderson is perhaps best known for her work since the 1980s, when she transitioned from painting in color to working only in black. Over her forty-plus-year career, Gunderson has tackled subjects from clouds to royalty to the cosmos. Her long-developed, labor intensive technique, including rigorous brushwork and paint layering, employs a range of black shades that create a unique three-dimensional effect: The multiple textures from the paint catch light and make the paintings shimmer and appear to move, alternating with shadows and highlights that illuminate her subjects—historic royal figures, bodies of water, mountains, and constellations—depending on how the viewer moves in front of each artwork.

Tracing the life and career of the artist, Karen Gunderson is written by author and critic Elizabeth Frank, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her biography of poet Louise Bogan and is the author of a number of books on art, including Jackson Pollock, published by Abbeville.

Art lovers and artists interested in Gunderson’s painting technique will discover captivating works in this book—in more than 100 illustrations—that shows how the artist pushes the limits to what one can do with black paint. While abstract artists of the past, including Ad Reinhardt and Pierre Soulages, have employed black paint, Gunderson has set herself apart from this lineage. She has distinguished herself not only with her use of figurative subjects, but also the way her works radiate a quiet optimism—a sharp contrast with this dark medium.


This is a beautiful book, beautifully written, produced with great care and understanding […] Frank is able to interpret Gunderson’s vision and its increasingly dramatic imagery based on an original technique with sensitivity and insight rare in an art book. — Barbara Rose, art critic

Though her themes vary, perhaps the principle subject is elegance – moral as much as aesthetic elegance. — Christopher Stackhouse, American writer and visual artist

Taking the color black as her prime subject, Gunderson’s achievement is to have explored its every nuance, ranging from the spiritual to the tactile, the seen and the imagined. In darkness, Gunderson’s brush reveals light itself. — David Anfam, art historian

If one thinks of Karen Gunderson only as the extraordinarily unique artist who was able to elicit infinite possibilities from cloud formations or to make us realize the intense possibilities of creating contour and form out of the intractability of black paint, this publication will reveal the limitations of those perceptions. — Lowery Sims, Curator Emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design

Through The Dark World of Light by Elizabeth Frank and Abbeville Press, we gain a rare insight into the evolution of Karen Gunderson’s mastery. Her careful attention to the mechanics of brush stroke has led to her unique ability to paint with light. As we watch her paintings shift and move, we become aware of our changing vantage and the role we play in their animation. Startling that such a high level of effect can result from so little. — William Siegal Gallery

You May Also Like