Ben Cunningham

Theme/Style – Representational art, Structuralism, Abstraction, Op Art

Media – Oils, murals, tapestries

Artistic Focus – Ben Cunningham’s career tracks the history of 20th Century American Modern Art, moving from landscapes and representational art early in his life, through the California Modernist influences of his 1934 Coit Tower work, Outdoor Life, and into Abstraction, Geometric Abstraction and Op Art. Through the style of Optical or Op Art, also known as Perceptual Abstraction, Cunningham used art to create the illusion of movement. Regardless of the style, however, all of Cunningham’s work was imbued with threads of his early education in architecture and his respect for structuralism and cubism. Works created by Cunningham throughout all phases of his career are marked by a strong sense of design and an ordered progression of color. Intricate, repeated patterns, which appear in many of his paintings, echo his work in tapestry design.

Career Highlights –

• Cunningham was born in Colorado and studied architecture at the University of Nevada before moving to San Francisco to study art.
• Cunningham became a master of color theory. Perhaps the strongest demonstration of Cunningham’s color mastery is Corner Painting, which proved to other color theorists that the three modes of appearance of color––surface, film and volume––could indeed be incorporated into a single work.
• By the time he presented his Op Art works in an exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1965, author Cindy Nemser said, “New York is finally catching up to Ben Cunningham.”