Walking into a painting can be done after all | VailDaily.com

Walking into a painting can be done after all

Shauna Farnell

Special to the DailyBart Gunderson's mural in Naperville, Ill., is dedicated to the town's bandstand history. The painting is 30 feet tall, 25 feet wide and was all painted with brushes no larger than 1 inch in diameter. The project took Gunderson 1,600 hours to complete.

EDWARDS – Imagination becomes the daily view for those who wake to see the world from a stage inside a football stadium, surrounded by rockstars, looking into a packed audience. Imagination can put one in the middle of the Gore Range with wildlife within an arm’s reach, or staring into the enormous curl of a wave.Many people have literally walked into and woken up inside of Bart Gunderson’s paintings. His work can be found in private homes throughout the Vail Valley as well as all over Chicago and the Midwest, California, and as far as Tokyo.Gunderson specializes in murals and theme rooms. When he imagines a world of art, his paintings, upon completion, transport their viewers inside, all within the snap of one’s visual focus.”I’m a visionary as far as room layout, dimension and objects in the room,” said Gunderson, 42, who has been painting since he was 5 years old. “When I was in high school, I thought I would be a gallery artist. Because of my extensive experience working with high-end designers and getting exposed to fiber optics, I got more excited about this.”

Gunderson was working at the Chicago Sun-Times 20 years ago, painting in the evenings, when he had an appointment to show a curator his work. After getting stood up, Gunderson drove around the area until stumbling upon a church-turned-mural gallery exhibiting work from designers contracted by McDonald’s restaurants. Gunderson went in, presented his work, and was hired to do a mural at a McDonald’s in central Tokyo, Japan. “It was a Hollywood theme with Marilyn Monroe, ’57 Chevies and Cadillacs,” he said of the piece, which he completed in 1987. “Since then, I’ve been doing murals throughout the Midwest, mainly for corporations and high-end homes.”Having moved to Edwards six years ago, the high-end homes of the Vail Valley did not go overlooked.Gunderson has injected private homes with jungle scenes, rodeo competitions, action sequences of snowboarding and skateboarding, and just about any other theme one might like to see every time they enter a room.

“I’m trying to create theme rooms of different environments,” Gunderson said. “I think there’s a market here for it. I did a corral theme, as if you were in a log cabin looking out at a rodeo through a closet door. There’s a cowboy bringing a horse into the corral and a corncob bike. It’s a 5-year-old’s room. At first the mother just wanted a horse scene painted on the door, but when she saw my portfolio, she wanted more.”Gunderson’s themes have also found their way into restaurants, hotels, theaters, and, of course, galleries. Those familiar with the clubhouse at Red Sky Ranch will know the portraits of Gerald Ford and other familiar local faces. They are also Gunderson’s work. The paintings in the Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek’s Allegria Spa and glass tables containing wooden letters in the hotel’s Whiskey Elk bar are his, too. He has painted entire theme restaurants – The Newsroom in Minneapolis, Minn, contains 7,000 sq. feet of work including a hand-painted nautical map on the floor and graphic designs of antique newspapers and a pirate ship-shaped bar.Gunderson just completed his largest and most recent project on Sept. 1 in Naperville, Ill. – a town of roughly 160,000 people, where Gunderson spent 19 years of his life.The biggest stage

“It was a mural for the city of Naperville,” he said. “They hired me to create the history of the bandstands in the town. I was given two or three historical books on bandstands. The mural is 75 feet wide and 30 feet tall. It’s all hand-painted with brushes no bigger than 1 inch in width. It took me 1,600 hours.”Gunderson’s wife, Mary, 2-year-old, Jack and newborn child, Abby, stayed in Vail as he finished the project which began in the summer of 2004. His days on the mural were spent working through wind and heat, not to mention dangers of the boon he stood on 30 feet above the ground. At one point, he almost fell off of it. He hand-painted 56 portraits of the town’s residents or late residents for $1,000 a piece, with several more on the waiting list. Gunderson considers the Naperville mural his most successful to date.”It was something that the community just adored,” he said. “They were so happy with it, they bought a $30,000 lighting system to frame it at night. I would be out there and 30 to 40 people were out there watching me paint. People invited me to dinner. The bands liked what I was doing. With any big undertaking, you just don’t ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had doing a mural.”Be it a kinetic sculpture that might turn up at Checkpoint Charlie soon, a gallery-bound landscape painting of Holy Cross Wilderness or a 10-year-old’s bedroom that resembles the Sahara Desert, Gunderson is never without work.

Creating legacies”I am constantly doing art,” he said. “I am always thinking artistically. There’s a certain rock and tree in Wolcott, when the sun hits it perfectly, it’s incredible. I go around and photograph things – Holy Cross, the Gore Range – and also think in terms of how I can make it work for someone’s home. I’m constantly thinking about how I can better my work.”As for his goals, Gunderson aims to wow private clients as well as the anonymous public with his work for decades to come.

“My goals are to create unique environments for people to live in and play in, and also do these three-dimensional structures to get more awareness in the public eye,” he said. “Until you see it, you don’t realize what it can do for an area or a building. My goals are to try to achieve art that will outlive myself and create a legacy for me and my family.” Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado