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Five Decades of Art

Floyd Tunson Reflects on a Half Century

You’ve seen his work. Floyd Tunson has been cranking out art in the Pikes Peak region for five decades. But do you know who this Janus is? This man who over and over depicts the two faces of life–the ever-conflicting ideas of its chaos and magnificence?

Early Life

Tunson’s older brother was an artist.

“He was still in high school,” Tunson said. “Every time I saw him, he was always drawing. … I would just sit on the couch and watch him work. It was like magic to me to watch him work.”

His brother was always creating—architectural renderings, painting, sculptures. Tunson doesn’t remember a time before art was in his home. He spent considerable time at the neighborhood library with his friends during his early years and discovered other black artists—people like Charles White and Jacob Lawrence.

“I realized there were people besides my brother who were doing it,” he said.  

Art Education

Tunson had a great art teacher at East High School in Denver and loved art, but he had planned to major in English in college. At Adams State College, however, he realized he didn’t know as much about art as he thought he did. He changed his major to art and following a family friend’s advice to have a back-up plan, he also began taking art education courses.

“Those paid off,” he said, laughing.

Tunson ended up with degrees in art and art education, began a summer program at Colorado University for black students interested in law, was drafted into the military during the Vietnam era and ended up taking an early out to settle and teach in Manitou Springs, where his wife grew up. 

For 30 years, he taught art at Palmer High School, retiring in 2000.

“It was a great job,” he said. “It kept me on my toes, too.”

In his later years of teaching, however, schools were taking the arts less seriously.

“Art was always on the fringes when the cuts came,” he said. “It was always something extracurricular to them.”

He’s thrilled to see a resurgence these days, as many STEM programs have transformed into STEAM programs that include the arts. 

“They caught on,” he said. “It’s a discipline. Man is innately creative.”

Creating Art

During those many years of teaching, Tunson was always creating.

“I had two jobs,” he said. “I was working on my work and I was teaching. … I got out of school around 2:30. I would eat, take a nap, get into the studio around 7 pm and stay until midnight.”

This daily routine is how he created such a massive collection of art. Sometimes, he would simply contemplate; other times, he would paint or draw or sculpt or build. The key was always making the time.

“It is hard work. It is labor,” he said, adding that we simply must make time for the things that matter. “You have to. The studio angel is not coming if you’re not in the studio.”

He says he’s a better artist than he was 30 years ago, but that he’s still learning and receptive to growing. His most recent show, Ascent, was a 70-piece retrospective covering 50 years.

“Much of that work has been in storage for a long time,” he said. “It’s just so wonderful to see it displayed again. … Seeing the work is always a revelation.”

What’s next? More art, of course.

“It’s my love,” he said. “It’s my sanctuary. I love doing the art. It’s not a job to me. … I’ll be doing it until I check out.”

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