Jeanne Kuhns: The Story Artist

In the studio with painter and musician Jeanne Kuhns

In both her painting and her music, Jeanne Kuhns likes to create stories.

But it wasn’t always that way. In her art, she first had to overcome some old habits of a zoology major. 

“I was more of a realist illustrator of nature,” she said. “I was trying to do totally real-looking, photographic paintings of animals and birds, and things like that.”

Over the years, Kuhns trained herself to pull away from that rigid mindset and paint “with more emotion and whimsy,” she said. “I like really mixing a subject that I see with fantasy that’s going on in my head. I always tell myself little stories about what’s going on.”

Painting by Jeanne Kuhns.

Lately, she’s been painting a lot of foxes as the subject of her paintings. 

“I painted a couple of foxes a few years ago, and they sold,” Kuhns said. “But then people started demanding more foxes – I just couldn’t paint them fast enough. Apparently people like the emotion in my foxes. Something about their eyes speaks to them.”

One of her current works in progress – a four-foot-by-five-foot canvas propped against the wall – depicts boat outlines in white. 

“This is going to be foxes in boats,” Kuhns said, further explaining that because of climate change, there will be more water where there wasn’t water before. “I was thinking about what happens to the wildlife when their forest is water. The foxes will have to go into boats. So it’s my little way of subtly making a point.”

Kuhns admits that it may be too subtle of a point, but that leads to conversation. 

“And then people never get it, so I have to explain it to them,” she added.

Portraits are another favorite subject Kuhns enjoys painting.

In addition to foxes, she likes to paint sunflowers with bees, nudes, and portraits, including one each year for Cheryl Stidwell Parker’s annual portrait show. She also likes to capture skies and landscapes on the canvas. 

Kuhns considers herself largely self taught, with a smattering of Peninsula School of Art classes and several courses with local artist Margaret Lockwood. 

“I learned a lot watching her paint,” Kuhns said, noticing some “habits” in her own style that she believes she picked up from Lockwood. 

“I paint a lot like her in terms of using a lot of thin layers,” she said.

Kuhns also learned about abstraction through a course with Lockwood. 

Jeanne Kuhns in her studio.

“She introduced me that first day to Wolf Kahn, and I instantly fell in love with the idea of taking a subject and minimizing it to the point where you put down just what you need for someone to get an emotional response from it,” she said. “I have not gotten there yet, but that’s kind of what I have in the back of my mind. I learned that I can make stuff up. I don’t have to just paint what I see, and if I do paint what I see, I can make it any way I want to see it. It’s so freeing to have that. It’s just like with writing songs – you can make up a story.”

Speaking of Kuhns’ music, she performs at MacReady Artisan Bread Company, 7836 Hwy 42 in Egg Harbor, on Sundays and Tuesdays, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm, and at various other venues around the county. See her art at Off the Wheel Pottery, 4234 Cty E in Egg Harbor.