Anita Kunz, Illustrator

31 October 2003

    Anita Kunz has reached a pinnacle attained by few illustrators and cartoonists. Her powerful, thought-provoking illustration work has been chosen to grace the exhibit walls of the Swann Gallery of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC for a solo exhibit. She is the first Canadian artist to receive the honour of a solo exhibition. Anita also joins a small, exclusive group of illustrators/cartoonists to show at the Gallery including Herb Block, Al Hirschfeld and several others.

    Entitled “Canadian Counterpoint: Illustrations by Anita Kunz,” the exhibit is composed of 15 paintings spanning the 25 years of the artist’s work. Though she may not be familiar by name to the average reader, Anita’s striking illustrations would be recognized inside and on the covers of big-name magazines. Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, Saturday Night, the Washington Post Magazine and Fortune Magazine are listed among Anita’s regular customers. (Her commissions may be up to $5000. US for an illustration.)

    Sleek, sophisticated and rich in detail, Anita’s work is a delight to the observer’s eye. It is also provocative, sometimes, on closer inspection, delivering a jolt to the senses. An illustration for Vibe Magazine of a bald male head, a handgun representing the nose and mouth, brings a feeling of fear. A giant hand clasping a small, frightened child, representing child abuse for Rolling Stone magazine sends chills down the spine. Other drawings are caricatures of celebrities or take aim at political figures. Illustrations of George Bush have been popular on the request list for Anita’s work.

Kunz 1

    For the most part, Anita does not do humourous illustration, preferring to undertake serious projects. “I’m not a big fan of decorative illustration. I like when a picture has a concept. I like when it provokes me – when it sort of encourages thought or is controversial,” Anita said on (Aug. 31/03) *(1) Unfortunately, the concept also leaves the illustration open to ambiguities. For example, many viewers took the huge, laughing baby pulling the puppet parent on strings on the cover of The New Yorker taken as an evil, monster baby, while the artist’s intent was to display an adorable, happy baby that runs the household. (As babies so often do.) The present state of alarm in the United States has made composing her usual fearless comments about politicians more difficult for the artist. “Since Sept. 11, everyone is more nervous, particularly illustrators,” noted Anita on “They know there are certain web sites that out people for being anti-American.” *(2)

    Anita’s own website was visited by the U.S. military after the publication of her illustration captioned “Quicksand: Iraq is Just The Beginning” on the cover of the April issue of The American Prospect. Anita dressed Bush up as an Arabian Oil Sheik with a quizzical expression. Unfortunately, it was received in a negative manner; Anita was surprised by the response. She found that other illustrators were having the same difficulty, one cartoonist to the point of being visited by the Secret Service for what he had considered to be a PRO-Bush cartoon. “Magazines in general are more nervous. I am more nervous. And it’s not just me. (Illustrator/author) Jules Feiffer was telling me a while ago that it’s like the age of McCarthy again. When people as distinguished as he is feel this way, it makes you think.” *(2)

    Toronto, Ontario was the birthplace of Anita Kunz, in 1956. Inspired by her educational illustrator uncle, Robert Kunz, Anita found she had an early understanding that “art could exist within, and contribute to, a larger social framework.” She studied at The Ontario College of Art, graduating in 1978. Through studies with British artists, she realized that “illustration could be much more personal in nature, not merely decorative. It could have a strong political or social viewpoint.” *(3) She found work internationally, at design firms, publishers – creating children’s book illustrations - and advertising agencies in diverse parts of the world, then turned her focus to the United States markets.

    An illustration for Anita’s client usually has a short development period. Upon receiving the phone call from the magazine with the story details that she will be illustrating, she works up an idea or two on paper, then faxes or emails the roughs to the client for approval. (Approval is not always given, and then Anita must generate further ideas.) The timeframe to complete the project may be from a few days to a few weeks. “Monthly magazines allow up to two weeks for the creation of the art, and for weeklies such as Time, there is generally little more than a day to produce that art from beginning to end.” She added that, for the Time assignments, “I generally receive the assignment on a Wednesday night, sketches are approved within hours, and by Thursday late afternoon courier must have the final art in hand for Friday delivery for an issue to be on newsstands worldwide by Monday.” It sounds exhausting.

    While her paintings are small, usually 5 x 8 inches to 16 x 20 inches, they are full of metaphors and symbolism to give her ideas clarity. Over her pencil drawings, Anita applies multi-layering glazes of watercolour and gouache on illustration board. She may add clay or collages to enhance her message. “I draw mainly from my head, without photographic reference, so my imagination has complete freedom,” said Anita. The distinctive work, with its hint of Canadian viewpoint, has earned her numerous awards and mentions, along with frequent invitations to speak at think tanks and festivals. She also teaches workshops and gives lectures internationally.

    Anita Kunz is one of Canada’s most prestigious illustrators, internationally known for her captivating designs and skill. Her diverse body of work consists of over 2,000 illustrations, more than 50 book jackets and other artistic endeavours. She also has begun a series of paintings of anthropomorphic representations, just for herself. Her solo exhibition in the Library of Congress is a recognition of her extraordinary talents and of the thought-provoking effects she has made through her art. “Canadian Counterpoint: Illustrations by Anita Kunz” will be on display in the Swann Gallery of the Library of Congress until January 3, 2004.

View samples of Anita Kunz’ remarkable illustrations:


*(2) (article no longer available)


© Susanna McLeod 2003  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on