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Father Michael Tunney's Self-Portraits at Canisius College

Tunney's self-portraits are on display through December 7.

A Life in Arcadia

The Reverend Father Michael Tunney, chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Canisius College, is showing life-sized self-portraits in the Peter and Mary Ann Vogt Gallery in the Bouwhuis Library.

Father Tunney’s work is being presented in the spare, square confines (a locked venue) of a small room amidst the end-of-semester consternation of a library full of undergraduates.Going into the gallery, one is immediately in the space of large, colorful watercolor paintings on paper. Tunney divides his work into themes representing a continued examination of his tenure at Canisius since 1994. But without the musing preamble these works are primarily mosaic-like homages to the late 19th-century French Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne.

Schematic, highly stylized tableaus of a personal iconography relating to Tunney’s examination of a spiritual life in a secular society, the ” Arcadia” theme predominates in large and small allusions to the master’s figurative paintings. Tunney’s use of pencil in short, hyphenated strokes carry the bright, mannered colors evenly across the wide expanse of his compositions. Much like Cezanne admitting evidence of industrial encroachment into his landscapes, Tunney accentuates the disconnect between an abiding clarity of faith and his artistic devotion in an honorific motif of objects included in these portraits; fresh-faced, he gazes out of the studio scene surrounded by brushes in cans, clamp lamps, easels, jars, even a church-like birdhouse all rendered in assured glyphic volumes. The figure of himself is naked and schematically formed as well, as if from a miniature studio model with appendages jointed in facets. But ultimately the figure presents nothing in the way of a personal revelation; shown from the rear, half-turned, or half-frontal with a skull hiding or protecting his crotch, Tunney makes the viewer keenly aware of his mentor but remains himself, an enigmatic cipher witnessing his own mirror.

Tunney’s work is on display through December 7.

j. tim raymond

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