Portraitist Karel Funk named Koerner Artist-in-Residence

Winnipeg artist discusses career and residency

Funk's portraits obscure the subject's face.
Supplied by Rebecca Anweiler

Karel Funk brings over a decade of experience to Ontario Hall as this year’s Koerner Artist-in-Residence.  

Funk’s paintings have garnered an international audience for their contemplative profiles of life in the city. His most recent portraits also offer a unique twist on the traditional format  — often obscuring the face of the subject to emulate the surrounding urban social interactions.

Coming to Kingston, Funk spoke with The Journal to discuss his work and the advice he wants to bring to the Queen’s BFA program over his time in the city, running until March 17. 

The Koerner Artist-in-Residence program allows outside artists to stay on campus, mentor students and share their art with the Kingston community.

As this year’s selected artist, Funk hopes to give fine arts students the opportunity to ask questions about the industry while also allowing them a unique insight into the realities of life as an artist. 

“I’m self-employed, so there’s all that stress of determining your output and how your product gets out there,” Funk said. 

Wisely using one’s time is a big key to success in the arts and Funk’s time at Queen’s shows this dedication. 

“I’ll be in the studio every day working on this painting that I brought, but then I am doing an artist talk,” he said, adding there was also an artist presentation and reception held at the Agnes on Wednesday, March 1. 

Funk’s current project is a portrait of the back of a hood, inspired by the closeness and anonymity shared between passengers riding on a crowded subway.

He became interested by this sense of relationship with utter strangers, honing in on it while living in New York City. For Funk, painting portraits from behind or from an angle, which obscures much of the person’s face, reflects the snapshot moment of human connection found in cities. 

Funk moved to New York in 2001, after completing a BFA in the University of Manitoba.

He graduated from Columbia two years later, where he began working with 303 Gallery. The gallery helps facilitate the business side of Funk’s artwork, hosting his solo shows and helping him sell his work.  

Since moving to New York, Funk’s work has joined museum collections across North America and was the subject of an artist retrospective at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2016. 

Funk will be bringing this career’s worth of experience to Ontario Hall for his residency this March, visiting third- and fourth- year students’ studios and offering tips to the aspiring artists. 

He’s also going to be working to advise students on the careers and methods available to them as artists as they pursue their work after Queen’s.  

“Not everybody’s going to have the same trajectory and not everyone’s going to do the studio practice that I have. It varies.” 

On the whole, Funk’s next few weeks will be dedicated to allowing students to pick his brain about whatever part of the art world they want, whether it’s creativity or the business side of things.  

“I’d like to talk about their artwork and their paintings – technically, conceptually if there’s anything they want to talk about,” he said. 

 “That’s the really fun part too…the journey to figure out your own voice and make it resonate.” 


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