Painter, illustrator and educator Glenn Tunstull has a pre-occupation with sky, water and light. It may well be what drew him to the Hudson River Valley after years of living in New York City and abroad. The change of seasons so evident in the Valley is the muse for his landscapes, both abstract and real, reminiscent of Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpieces. Since moving to upstate New York in 2002, Tunstull has painted every season, capturing the splendor of fall foliage along the Taconic, the blanketing of pristine snow from his studio window atop a hill in Claverack and the bucolic beauty of Hudson in spring and summer. While there is much to capture at home, Tunstull’s love of art knows no borders. His settings, thus far, have extended from the pastoral elegance of Surrey, England, to the energetic and breathtaking colors of Bahia and Rio De Janeiro, from the beautiful and historical grandeur of Paris to the far-flung flourishes of Australia, Bali, Italy and Japan.
For a little more than a decade Tunstull has exhibited annually on Martha’s Vineyard, building a recognizable body of work and a faithful following of fans and collectors.
"I remember my first show. I was slightly nervous as to how well it would go," he admits. "Then I made about $20,000 in one weekend and my nerves were put to rest!"
Over the years Tunstull has expanded his “storytelling” to include vivid portrayals of life on the island, and his rich African-American heritage is on display in these works.
“I've always strived and will continue to strive to place the viewer in the setting of my work. I want to show a large part of the multi-cultural world that goes unseen, showing people of color far beyond the stereotypes. I feel my life has been one of breaking the mould and it's only natural that my work should reflect that as well," Tunstull explains.
Tunstull was always an artist, but not always a painter. As a child, he lived a gypsy-like existence with his parents, two brothers and sister, in New York, Detroit and Louisville, and cites his father's entrepreneurial spirit as the reason for their on-the-move lifestyle. When he was seven his Uncle Leroy drew a portrait of him with his parents and there is where it all began.
"As a child I tried to copy that drawing and I think in some ways I've been copying it ever since," he says.
Drawing came easy to Tunstull and it was the tool he used as a child to make friends during his family’s moves from city to city.
The first hint of Tunstull’s future success arrived in the form of a mail-order drawing competition. Organizers were so impressed with his abilities they sent a representative, unannounced, to the thirteen year-olds home to discuss nurturing his artistic career. What Tunstull learned from that visit was that art was a way to make a living, not just something one did for fun. After graduating a few years later from the prestigious Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Tunstull received a scholarship to Parsons, the New School for Design in New York City—after having been told by his school counselor not to apply and consider going into carpentry—and his career was set into orbit.
As one of the A-list fashion illustrators, who defined the 70s and 80s, Tunstull was fully steeped in the culture of clothes along with contemporaries Antonio Lopez and Kenneth Paul Block. His work graced the pages of renowned publications such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, The New York Times and Women’s Wear Daily where he was the first African-American artist to illustrate at the respected title. The elite of fashion design and retail championed his work—from Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Joseph Abboud to Henri Bendel's, Versace, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus. During this period he also illustrated several fashion and beauty books published by Simon & Schuster. Among them were The Beauty Principle by actress Victoria Principle, Katherine Klinger’s Book of Beauty and The Fashion Sketch Book by Bina Abling.
Tunstull remembers the period fondly. "It was a crazy time. I was working incredibly hard and making a lot of money but I think ultimately, you can only work at that pace for so long."
At the tender age of twenty-five Tunstull moved first to Morocco, then Italy and France. Revitalized after leaving the frantic atmosphere of New York, he plied his craft at a more relaxed pace with some of the most prestigious names in Euro fashion. Hermes, Kenzo and Silvano Malta became regular clients. Additionally, Tunstull found himself as the subject rather than the artist when he was featured in Italian Vogue under the direction of editor Anna Piaggi.
Upon his return to the United States Tunstull expanded his editorial clientele to include The New York Times, GQ and Esquire magazines. On the design side he created images for Polo/Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein and entered the world of beauty working with L'Oreal and Revlon.
At the close of the twentieth century Tunstull unexpectedly entered a new realm. Teaching was added to his resume-- fashion drawing at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Pratt Institute, and advanced model drawing at his alma mater, Parson's, the New School of Design, where he now teaches visual communications. In 2008 Tunstull joined the faculty of Marist College to teach fashion drawing and color theory.
A period of global travel, beginning in 1996, proved to be a turning point in Tunstull’s artistic endeavors. Starting with a trip to France, he created off-the-cuff documentary watercolors that faithfully recorded the scenes he experienced. Subsequent visits to Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, Martha’s Vineyard, and various other locations proved to be equally inspiring. Tunstull was particularly drawn to sites that combined water and sky, and the play of color. In 2000, he began painting in oil, creating expansive landscapes and seascapes based on close observation. As the work developed, a sense of abstraction emerged, while the desire to represent reality remained strongly present.
Tunstull reflects on his current lifestyle with a sense of characteristic humility.
“My life as an artists is very different now. As an illustrator, I was presented with a project and a directive to present it in a specific way. Now, I decide what I find interesting, put it out there and allow others to make their own decisions about it,” Tunstull states. It’s very freeing,” he adds.
Tunstull has committed some of that free time to giving back. For several years he has attended and provided art to the annual fundraising galas hosted by Urban Tech, , and Live Out Loud!, Additionally, he has shared his experience and knowledge through public speaking engagements with the Society of Illustrators, the Claverack, New York Library and most recently, as a featured speaker for the Marist College Brunch on Leadership in the Fashion Industry.
Life is frequently discussed as a circle and that theory is evident in the life of Glenn Tunstull. In the summer of 2013 an unexpected request came for Tunstull to create 75 fashion illustrations overnight for a television commercial for Modern Family star Sofia Vergara’s Kmart fashion line. In true Glenn Tunstull style, he got it done and the commercial was shot two days later. The following spring, again unexpectedly, he was commissioned to create the brand image for the 28th annual Marist College Runway & Awards show. As with his landscapes, Tunstull allowed his surroundings to inspire him. He chose the gown design of a student, chose another student as the model and once again created a fashion image widely applauded.
In the midst of painting for two upcoming exhibits and completing a portrait commission, a call came from Europe. The result, two of his iconic illustrations from the 1970s featured in a London Fashion Week exhibit hosted by the prestigious UK gallery Gray M.C.A.
"I have a lot be thankful for. I'm doing what I love, travelling, painting, and making a living from of it. But it's all still a progression. As an artist, it's always about improving your craft. That's been my primary goal and always will be. My thinking is it's never about the last painting. It's always about the next one.”