Art Here, Art Now: Jen Unekis, A Sensitive Handling of Color and Tension

During the 2019 Benefit Art Auction, we partnered with the Department of Art History at the University of Kansas to provide background and insight on participating artists and their work. David Cateforis, Department Chair and Art History Professor, led graduate students through the selection, research, and writing process for the Art Here, Art Now blog series. We would like to thank these students for sharing their unique perspective on the art that appeared in the auction, and will continue to share their essays in the weeks ahead.

Megan Seiler, MA student in Art History at the University of Kansas, on Jen Unekis


“I often hear people say, ‘My kid could paint that,’ when looking at my art and I respond: ‘Yes, but could you?’”

– Jen Unekis

Jen Unekis paints abstractions on board, layering colors in acrylics and oils. Glass pencil, sealed with an airbrush medium, creates the black lines. Her work pulls from the tradition of the famous late American painter Cy Twombly, evoking a child’s hand. However, Unekis’s work is actually quite sophisticated; her sensitive handling of color and the tension she creates between shapes produces rich aesthetic complexity. The horizontal painting, Persistent Understanding (2018), with an overall milky white tonality, balances the left and right areas of the elongated composition through greens and yellows on both sides. Splashes of blue in the ellipsoidal shapes guide the viewer toward the center, while small accents of coral direct the eye into the center and then off to the edges.

A larger, vertical work, Untrained Objectives (2018), again features biomorphic shapes created with a glass pencil. On the lower right, a form with limb-like posts reaches toward the bottom of the frame without touching it. A bold orange-and-red inverted C shape draws attention to this animal-like formation. Unekis complements this prominent motif through other curved shapes and strategically layered oranges and yellows throughout the composition. Her art feels like a breath of fresh air with its bright color palette and playful forms, while displaying a refined understanding of how to balance these multiple elements.

Jen Unekis is an award-winning artist and advocates for Lawrence artists. She holds positions as president of the Lawrence Art Guild and coordinator of Art in the Park.