German-born Kunath works across painting, sculpture, video and photography, his various output united by a tragi-comic interest in alienation and futility. His work is heavy with melancholia, wanderlust, and romantic longing. Yet also tempered with a healthy dose of humor and absurdity. In 2008 Kunath left his native Germany and moved to Los Angeles. In speaking of the relocation's affect on his work, he has said: "I guess the colors got brighter and the topics got darker. Sunshine and Noir." (F. Kunath, in S. Mann, "Q&A with Artist Friedrich Kunath," Hammer News+Blogs, accessed September 17, 2011, http://hammer.ucla.edu/newsblogs/?p=1533.)
Let The Distance Keep Us Together exemplifies Kunath's concept of Sunshine and Noir and parallels his description of Los Angeles as a city of unrealities, fictions, and contradictions. In this expressionistic painting, abstraction and representation co-mingle. Kunath has silk-screened appropriated imagery across the canvas-figures borrowed from the 1970s animations of Guillermo Mordillo, the romantic drawings of a Gothic abbey. Across the entire canvas he's layered stains of psychedelic color, deep blues, acid greens, and vibrant fuchsias. At the top, in florid cursive, Kunath has written the absurd title, Let The Distance Keep us Together.
Kunath's work calls to mind a variety of art historical references. The luminous washes of paint recall the poured color-field canvases of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. The riotous juxtaposition of patterns and borrowed imagery recall Sigmar Polke. And the fantastical scenes of human alienation and aging edifices recall the melancholic tradition of German Romanticism. Kunath further tethers the Romantic tradition with his habitual portrayal of the wanderer.
The ultimate romantic symbol of the independent drifter, the pirate, is here utterly comical. In his scale and lack of context he is completely divorced from his surroundings, speaking to Kunath's larger interest in the human longing for connections. The tiny hobo in the lower left, cooking his meal in a cast-iron pot, furthers this narrative of dejection-on his back he wears a sign reading "wife wanted." Yet, these figures are caricatures; the scene is ridiculous, the phrase is absurd; this is Kunath's injection of humor.
This is not the first time Kunath has titled his work Let The Distance Keep us Together. For the 55th Carnegie International, Kunath displayed a light box assemblage with vinyl letters spelling the title. A recurring phrase in his work,
Distánce is also the name of Kunath's forthcoming signature perfume (M. Thompson, "Ecstatic Disappearance," Home Wasn't Built in a Day (Berlin: Steinberg Press, 2009), p. 66). In this we not only see Kunath's brand of absurdist tragedy but also the direction his work continuous to explore so successfully.