Health professor Tom Kunke used to treat painting as a quiet hobby - that is until art galleries started taking notice.
Kunke is a popular health professor best known for teaching classes like nutrition, team sports, and golf at Warner Pacific since 1991. Yet, few have known that Kunke is also an award-winning painter.
One of his abstract oil paintings – a work entitled "River Town" – earned the Juror’s Award for Outstanding Artistic Merit at the 2010 Radius 25 exhibition, sponsored by the Salem Art Association, in Salem, Ore., last summer. It was the first time the self-taught artist had shown his work beyond a small group of friends and family.
"Art was a way to work to use a different part of my brain when I got home from work," said Kunke. "It was just an outlet. I never expected to have people put [my art] up on their wall. It was a couple of years before I showed anyone anything."
Kunke originally began experimenting with watercolors in the late 1990s and transitioned to oil painting about six years ago. He says he is intrigued by the textures that he can create using only a palette knife to build multiple layers of paint on the canvas. He will typically work on a given piece on and off for months.
Kunke has only taken one art class in his life, a course entitled "Art for Elementary Teachers" when he was studying education at Oregon State University in 1985. Even then, Kunke’s work stood out.
"[Art] is honest, sensitive, and expressive, that’s what we work on," said Kunke’s former OSU professor James Kirk. "There isn’t anyone more honest, and there was no one in the class who was more sensitive to the world around him [than Tom]."
Kunke’s success at the Salem art exhibit has caught the attention of Portland-area galleries, which have asked him to send photographs of his work. Adding to the recent good news, the life-long bachelor is engaged to be married in April and plans to visit many world famous art museums in Italy during his three-week honeymoon in May.
A slideshow of Kunke's work.