In a world with a constant barrage moving images, Kevin Muente's paintings beckon viewers to slow down and contemplate a frozen, motionless moment in time. Many of Muente's surreal images deliberately cause viewers stop and ask, “What is about to happen?” Each painting's slightly ambiguous content pulls the narrative in multiple directions, keeping viewers guessing and returning for repeated examinations.
Although he began painting pure landscapes, Muente later added subjects to his staged, pictorial scenes. His work explores the human experience through the metaphor of landscape by featuring archetypal figures within idealized rural surroundings. The emotions portrayed in these small moments of human action tap into universal themes: loss, heroism, and fear. “On reflection, I realize that these cinematic paintings depict people facing the most elemental conflict in nature-life and death-and they ask more questions than they answer,” Muente wrote in his artist statement.
His job as an associate professor of painting at Northern Kentucky University allows him to produce paintings he wants to make, not necessarily those he knows he can sell. That freedom has helped him develop a distinctive style that he calls “narrative, figurative landscapes.” The dramatic interaction between figures and landscapes taps into the conflict in people's lives.
Muente draws some inspiration from films, observing how cinematographers portend the mood and the upcoming action by panning over a landscape. When he scouts a location for future work, he shoots 200 to 400 photographs, editing them down to one or two that will become the basis for his next painting. He might also use historical paintings or films as references in a storyboard. He casts models as archetypes, but says that in some way they have lived those roles.
Born in 1971 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Muente received his BFA in drawing and painting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1994 and his MFA in painting from the University of Cincinnati in 1999. Represented by the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York, he has exhibited his paintings in various national juried competitions and received several honors including The Kentucky Arts Council's Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship, a Cincinnati Summerfair Aid to Individual Artist Grant, and artist residencies at both Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska and at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. He previously taught at the Milwaukee Art Museum and Missouri Western State College.
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.