“I’m more of an evolutionary artist than a revolutionary artist,” says Glenn Tunstull, who will be the focus of a solo show at the Cousen Rose Gallery starting this weekend. For those who may know Mr. Tunstull primarily as a representational artist who works in a very distinctive pointillism-influenced style, the upcoming show will provide a chance to see his latest series of purely abstract paintings.
The change from figurative to abstract represents less of a leap than a gradual transformation.
“[Abstraction] has always been a part of me,” says Mr. Tunstull. “I gingerly stepped toward these changes.”
The artist got his start as a fashion illustrator straight out of art school. “I was very fortunate,” he says. “I got work with Women’s Wear Daily when I first came out of Parsons. That gave me a real national, even global, platform. It brought my work to the attention of a lot of people in the industry. It was exciting; I started there in the early ’70s. As a black fashion illustrator, the opportunities were very sparse. I got catapulted early on. I worked for many of the top fashion designers, department stores, and beauty brands.”
Although he was working by assignment, Mr. Tunstull found room to be creative with his work. “For me, my longevity was going to depend on my ability to provide people with different things,” he says. “With each new client, I tried to develop something unique. I would work with a very different style if I was working for Revlon or Ralph Lauren or Bloomingdale’s.”
That ability to accommodate a variety of aesthetics has served Mr. Tunstull well in his fine art career. He began as a watercolor artist, creating realistic landscapes of the many places he traveled, from Paris to Rio to Australia. Mr. Tunstull got his first show on the Vineyard at the former Firehouse Gallery in Oak Bluffs, exhibiting his Vineyard landscapes. It was there that Zita Cousens of the Cousen Rose Gallery discovered him, and she has hosted a solo show of his work every year since 2001.
Eventually Mr. Tunstull switched to oil painting, and began to lean more toward impressionism. He developed a style all his own, which he calls dashilism, similar to pointillism. His paintings are built up by a series of small brush marks or dabs, as opposed to dots, giving the images an almost pixelated look. “I’ve always loved the idea of color telling the story and creating the form, as opposed to light and shadows creating the form,” says the artist.
The dashilism paintings have proved very popular. Mr. Tunstull has quite a following on the Vineyard, and around the Hudson Valley, where he lives. However, the restless artist was not one to stop experimenting just because he’d found a niche. In the past few years, he’s moved on to pure abstraction.
“I experimented with it [dashilism] for quite a long time,” he says. “Now the work has taken another turn. In some ways I had exhausted the creativity I was bringing to representational imagery. I decided to do something more abstract — total nonobjective imaging. Now I’m bringing linear elements into my work that had not been there. I’m using abstraction to create shapes and linear forms that I feel are very pleasing in terms in color, proportion, and balance.”
Mr. Tunstull uses soft, muted colors as a background for bold curved lines, creating a sense of motion while retaining a calm feeling.
For those who are interested in seeing examples of Mr. Tunstull’s dashilism work, the Cousen Rose Gallery will offer archival hand-embellished prints of some of Mr. Tunstull’s previous paintings. Also available will be the artist’s book, “Tunstull — From Fashion to Fine Art: The Tunstull Art Odyssey,” which features examples of work from the artist’s long and successful career.
Mr. Tunstull lives in the Hudson Valley and teaches at Parsons School of Design. He and his husband make frequent visits to the Vineyard.
The opening on Saturday, August 19, will include a book signing with author Richard Taylor, whose book “Martha’s Vineyard: Race, Property, and the Power of Place” was published last year.
The Cousen Rose Gallery, whose tagline is “It’s more than a gallery,” has been including book launches and signings since its inception in 1980. One of the first featured authors was Dorothy West. “I see literature as an art form,” says Ms. Cousens. “It makes sense to feature it.”
The Circuit Avenue gallery offers jewelry, clothing, and books, as well as fine art. The openings are generally very social occasions, with longtime supporters stopping in to mix and mingle with the artists and catch up with friends from all over the country. The artist and author reception is Saturday, August 19, from 7 to 9 pm, with music by Silas Berlin.
For more information, visit cousenrose.com or call 508-693-6656.