Ron Fundingsland is an artist’s artist. His technically superb work impresses those who know how many hours of labor is involved to achieve such mastery of medium. A printmaker in the traditional sense, Fundingsland creates using a form of etching that dates back to the 14th century. Yet the subject of his color intaglio prints is contemporary and contemplative, providing a commentary on American society.
Some prints are subtly political such as “Wheels,” two intersecting diameters created from equally thick crosses, one on the left overlaid with the words “We the people,” and one on the right layered with green dollars. Others are emotionally charged, like “Memories End,” a diptych with half of a watch or clock on the left and what appears to be a careless jumble of blooming red roses dropped from a grief-stricken hand.
Fundingsland is a man with a velvet voice heard regularly on KSUT radio. In southwest Colorado, his voice is more familiar than his art. The last time Fundingsland’s work was shown in the area was in a solo exhibit at the Durango Art Center Library in 2001.
Luckily, Pagosa Springs-based Shy Rabbit, a contemporary art space, is featuring a solo exhibit of work by Ron Fundingsland through Nov. 12.
While Fundingsland has a B.F.A. from the University of Colorado, he is primarily self- taught. In 1983 he picked up a catalog of work by Frederich Meckseper and taught himself the color intaglio printing process Meckseper used. The trick was, the catalog was in German and Fundingsland had to translate. He explained this to a group of artists who gathered at Shy Rabbit Sunday, Oct. 16, for an artist’s roundtable. For 23 years, Fundingsland has diligently pursued his passion for printmaking. His work usually reflects “something on my mind, something I think about. I’m not obsessed with political prints, but often my inspiration comes from what irritates me,” Fundingsland said.
The intaglio printing process is very involved. A print begins with a pencil drawing on newsprint and an industrial grade copper plate. The artist coats the copper plates with acid resist, then transfers the drawing to the plate by pressing the graphite from a pencil into the acid resist to create texture. The deeper the mark, the more ink it will hold and the darker the line on the print. Fundingsland creates two plates: one black and one color. The whole process is an experiment, but eventually the artist achieves what he envisioned and he begins the process of hand inking the plates and producing the final prints. The paper is a heavy rag paper and it is put on the plate wet. The wet paper is more pliable and accepting of the oil-based ink. A color plate is printed and then the black plate is put on the press, the registry lined up and the black is printed. The entire process can take four to six weeks and actually printing each of the series of originals seven to 10 days.
Fundingsland usually prints 30-35 multiple originals. Each print is a unique work of art depending upon the ink and the breakdown of the plate and the etching lines. When the 25 or 35 prints are gone, the plate is struck, never to be printed again.
“There is a duality to the process,” Fundingsland said. “It’s like working with somebody else. That partner of mine is the medium. Sometimes you like that person and sometimes you hate that person. I’m still not sure what’s going to happen. Sometimes there are happy accidents.”
The artist admits that when you finally pull that one print off the press and it’s done. “It’s very exhilarating. A cheap thrill. A great artistic moment.” But you know you have more to do because each one is hand inked and hand processed.
Many of Fundingsland’s pieces in the Shy Rabbit show are diptychs. Ron explained that he was doing well with a gallery in Santa Fe and wanted to experiment with a larger format, but his press bed at his Bayfield studio is limited in size, so he started doing diptychs, two prints framed together to make a whole image. Now he even does triptychs. “I ended up really liking it, it’s a challenge to figure out how to bring them together.”
Fundingsland talked to the artists and collectors at Shy Rabbit about his work, his career and his process. “This is not a get-rich-quick scheme, folks,” he said. “I have another job where I make money and have insurance.”
Fundingsland chose the traditional route of entering his prints in juried shows, hitting the pavement with his portfolio to find gallery representation and focusing on contemporary print exhibitions around the world. Today, he is affiliated with the American Society of Graphic Artists, the International Print Triennial Society and The Boston Printmakers. His work is in the public collections of the Denver Art Museum, The Seattle Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, among others. His work is in the corporate collections of 3M and Citibank. Fundingsland is currently affiliated with Robischon Gallery in Denver, Morgan Gallery in Kansas City, Graystone in San Francisco and A Clean Well-Lighted Place in New York.
And while many artists would look at his resume and think that Fundingsland has arrived, he’s quick to point out that that isn’t the case. He’s not going to have a solo exhibition at Robischon, even though he’s been with the gallery for 14 years. “It’s not like they are going ‘we need to pay the rent, where’s Fundingsland?'”
Since he has a good relationship with gallery owners Jim and Jennifer Robischon, he was able to have a candid conversation about why no solo exhibition when his work is well received. Ron said to Jim, “If I sold out my show, you couldn’t cover the rent, the fish crackers and the wine, could you?”
Robischon’s response? “Maybe not the fish crackers.”
So, while a gallery like Robischon is having solo exhibits of work by Robert Rauschenberg and Jim Dine, they are showing collectors a lot more Ron Fundingsland than if he were given a solo show. A lot of people may want a Rauschenberg original, but can’t afford it. Why not add a Fundingsland to the collection? A Fundingsland diptych can be acquired unframed for less than $1,000.
Fundingsland made the decision long ago that it was about the work and not the market. “I’m not creating work with one eye on the canvas and one eye on the market. Every print I make is part of my life’s work.
“It’s a different mindset to make money on the art fair circuit. These are fine artists and they are manufacturing what works for them to the keep the thing going.” Fundingsland was clear that he felt it the decision to pursue art on the circuit is equally as viable and valuable as the route he took. It’s a personal decision.
“I’m shooting for the end game,” he said.
He encourages local artists to enter shows, regional, tri-state, national and international because you “get a good feel for how good your work is, not just from friends and family.”
“It’s important to get your work out there and get a gauge,” he said.
What about rejection?
“Rejection is a myth,” Fundingsland said. “It’s the wrong word. When you enter a juried show or approach a gallery, it is one person, maybe two, who say the work isn’t going to work in their gallery. One person is making a decision about hundreds of pieces of work. How absurd to think everyone is going to like your work and how horrible would you feel if they did?”
Traditionally, Fundingsland’s contemporary, post-modern prints haven’t done well in the Southwest art market. So why show at Shy Rabbit in Pagosa Springs?
“[The Coffees] a
re miners. They are finding great talent and great work. I must say the people who came to the opening, their comments and perceptions were head and shoulders above what I hear in Durango,” Fundingsland said.
Upcoming shows for Fundingsland include the International Print Triennial in Krakow, Poland and a show in Cairo, Egypt called “American Prints in Troubled Times.”
Instead of flying halfway around the world to see the work of Ron Fundingsland, be sure to check out the current exhibit at Shy Rabbit through Nov. 12 at 333 Bastille, Unit B-1. The gallery will be open Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. For a sample of his work, visit the artist’s Web site at http://www.RonFundingsland.com.
Photo: Artist Ron Fundingsland discusses his work with SW Colorado artists at the October roundtable at Shy Rabbit.