Kodiak Artist Creates Paintings You Can Both See and Touch

A tactile painting by Cunat Spencer. Photo courtesy of Cunat Spencer
A tactile painting by Cunat Spencer. Photo Courtesy of Cunat Spencer

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

An artist just received a Kodiak Arts Council scholarship to create a series of white-on-white paintings that use layers and texture to create landscapes viewers can both see and feel. Cunat Spencer says she’d previously steered away from white paintings because she does so many Kodiak landscapes, which are full of blues and greens and natural colors.

That changed when she attended a special education conference in Anchorage, where a guest speaker who was blind and deaf left an impression on her.

“She just inspired me so much, I came home and, doing my Barometer study, I painted one specifically for her and so, using my texture, it was the first time I actually individualized the texture on the painting instead of just doing it as I painted, I made the purpose of the blue sky being a different texture than the green grass, being a different texture than the trail going down the crest, different texture than the rock.”

Spencer says she sent the painting off to the speaker, and the idea of textured paintings stuck with her. She says it’s comparable to a piece of pop art with yellow and red dots.

“When you get really up close, you just see yellow and red docks, but if you step back, you see orange. Your mind is putting together what you’re seeing. And I thought about it, and I’m like if I do texture, I can do white on white, and I can do different texture for the sky, different texture for the mountain, different texture for grass or the river, and your mind, when you look at these paintings, you’re going to see a landscape.”

She says there was an obstacle, one which many artists face – it’s expensive to pay for that much paint. And so she applied for a scholarship from the Kodiak Arts Council.

“And a week later, I got a call here and I was so excited, I was dancing around my room, I probably sound like a dork about this, but the idea that I’m gonna be able to complete this project this summer, and that when the fall comes, hopefully we’ll be able to have everyone on the island experience art in a different way.”

Spencer says she’s aiming to complete seven paintings for the series and will exhibit them in a public space for people to touch. She says she’ll use acrylic paint, which will keep its shape when people run their fingers over it.

“You can touch acrylics as much as you want and, as long as you don’t nick it or cut it, they’re not gonna wear down by being touched. Oil paints eventually will wear down or transfer to your hands and stuff if you get ‘em too wet, but once acrylic dries, it’s solid, so we’ll put big signs, kids can touch, have fun. Maybe hand sanitizer off to the side.”

Spencer says the award was six hundred dollars, and it’ll enable her to pay for all the materials she’ll need for the project.

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