Essay: Anita Kunz

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
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  • Published on: March 23, 2018
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Anita Kunz is a Canadian illustrator with nearly 40 years of experience who has worked for America’s most iconic magazines and advertising agencies. A renowned artist, her works have been praised worldwide. While she is an artist, she is better described as a social critic that uses art as her medium.

Body 1 – Tri

Anita Kunz was born in 1956 in Toronto and grew up in Kitchener. Over the years, she’s lived in cities such as New York City and London. She had an apartment in the West Village for 23 years but gave it up a few years back. She graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1978 and since then, she has worked for magazines, film, book publishers and advertising agencies in all over the world, such as Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Canada, South Africa, Holland, Portugal, France, and England. She loves to draw since she was a kid and her uncle, Robert Kunz, was her biggest influence and his motto is “Art for education”. She says in an interview with Stephanie:” I think most people are good artists when they’re children. They simply become self-conscious about their drawings around the age of 12 or 14 and give it up. I just never stopped!”. She worked as a waitress to put herself through college and started freelancing straight after graduating. Since then, she travels and works across the globe. She creates illustrations and covers for America’s most iconic magazines such as Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Sony Music, Random House Publishing, etc. Over the years, she also travels to teach, gives speeches at universities and institutions including the Smithsonian Institution and the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC. To her, natural light in her workspace is very important. That’s how she can work in different places. Until now, she has nearly 40 years of experience in creating illustrations. Anita Kunz divides her time between teaching, illustrating and making personal works such as her fine arts. The reason for working on fine art, according to her, is that after more than 25 years of illustrating for other people she wants to work for herself; to explore what it was that she wants to say about the world and her place in it. Her works were typically small but now she has been working on a larger scale, up to 30” x 40” and she works in diptychs and triptychs and she also works in series. Her personal works usually fall into these categories: gender, evolution, the natural world, and religious narratives vs. science. She works alone and according to an interview, her biggest challenge about working alone was to learn the business side of the industry when she started. She also has to do self-promotion. She was taught that it is not polite to brag but she has to do it to promote herself. Early in her career, she was lucky to have Marshall Arisman, an American illustrator, and educator, who gave her advice and a list of art directors that she can contact. He also wrote an article in CA magazine about her work. Over the years, she also has worked with many art directors: Louis Fishauf, Fred Woodward, Arthur Hochstein, Francoise Mouly, etc. With the industrial revolution, computer, and internet, Anita Kunz has to adapt to use social media to get her work out into the world. To help her adapt to changes in the art industry and remain relevant, she has learned modern mediums such as Photoshop. However, the biggest move that she has made is going to the gallery world. She said she had never dreamed to be a gallery artist but now she is moving in that direction. She says in her interview:” These days I think a better strategy is to strive to make your work as sophisticated and personal as possible, and then look for different venues for the work. I think that most of us illustrators working today do multiple things, illustration, personal work, teaching, etc. There are so many different opportunities these days that I think it’s too limiting to look for work in only one area.” Her works have appeared in galleries worldwide, including the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts. In 1998, she had a solo show at the Creation Gallery in Tokyo. She was the first woman and the first Canadian to have a solo show at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in 2003 and she was named one of the fifty most influential women in Canada by the National Post Newspaper.

(Source :Chefas, Stefanie. “Interview with Anita Kunz”.


Wikipedia. “Anita Kunz”. September 17, 2017. Wikipedia.


Body 2 – Tobias

The art of Anita Kunz is mostly based on conveying messages related to social issues, taking its roots from the Canadian conceptual art movement. Kunz’s birth decade, the 60’s, were an important time in Canadian art that paved the way towards her views and influences on art. 1965 was the year that, with the influence of artist and professor Ian Wallace, that the conceptual art movement took flight, making a huge impact on Canadian art history. This movement focused more on ideas rather than a medium, and almost completely took over the Canadian art world. Younger art generations were heavily exposed to the movement through lectures by big names in the conceptual art world such as historian and art critic Lucy Lippard and artist Robert Smithson (Wikipedia, “Canadian Art”). Although initially starting off as text and photography, it would soon take the form of painting and sculpture (Narusevicius, 176), the early stepping stones towards what eventually would evolve into Anita Kunz’s editorial conceptual style. This approach towards art, that the idea matters more than the art itself, is a philosophy that Anita Kunz herself stands by, according to interviews. She is not afraid to entertain controversial themes in her illustrations as she views her art as a visual message rather than worrying about aesthetics. Given this, visual clarity is very important to her line of work as she wants her message to be as clear as possible. As a result, she uses bright, clear mediums such as gouache and watercolor, with the occasional use of acrylic, layering them on very carefully over a long period of time. Her themes mostly focus on social issues such as gender, religion, and ethics of animal treatment. A staunch feminist, her focus on gender issues is especially strong as she aims to fight for equal treatment of both sexes (Chefas, interview with Anita Kunz). Her most famous and controversial example of her social critique on gender equality is her July 2007 cover for The New Yorker, depicting a muslim woman, nun, and woman in a bikini sitting side by side in a subway.

Kunz, Anita. “Girls Will Be Girls”. Time Magazine. July 2007.

Although she is Canadian, Kunz focuses mainly on American politics and events. This is largely due to the fact that most of her main employers, big magazines such as The New Yorker, Time, Rolling Stone and Variety, are all American-based companies. A lot of her works being political satire, many of her illustrations and magazine covers involve portraits of some sort; human, animal or both. Symbolism and metaphor is extremely prominent in her works due to them being satirical in nature, such as the magazine cover of the large breasted six year old, in reference to the phenomenon of children hitting puberty at a much younger age.

Kunz, Anita. Time Magazine cover. Oct 2000.

To put matters short, Kunz makes use of a visually simple yet eye-catching illustration style to create powerful statements and social critiques.

Body 3 – Lydian

Anita Kunz, a well-known Canadian illustrator, has accomplished many projects throughout her life. Her work is frequently shown on the covers of many American and Canadian magazines such as The New Yorker, Variety, The Walrus and more. She confronts several controversial issues, like gun-control and political issues using metaphors on the magazine covers. Her work is also often found on Canadian stamps, book covers and in many Art Museums worldwide. Anita is notorious for her great artistic wit on political issues, her celebrity portraits and her great use of themes. This incredible artist is also a devoted member of society, and she tries to let that be known through her art-pieces. After being featured on the television show Arts and Minds, the Canadian illustrator states that she has created approximately over two thousand artworks in the past twenty-five years (The Illustration Watercooler, “Anita Kunz”). One of the reason she is an extremely successful artist is because she is continuously creating and learning something new every day.

Anita has experimented with many different art mediums throughout her life, such as inks and oils. She ends up settling on mainly using water-based materials such as acrylics, gouache and watercolour for her work. She has also been found to occasionally use coloured pencils. Anita’s common art process is very easy to distinguish. She takes inspiration from artists from the fifteenth-century, those of which normally portrays rich colour, deep significance and a character surrounded by a glowing light. She starts off her art-piece with a pencil sketch. Afterwards, she goes over this sketch with light washes of either watercolour or gouache, and on occasion; both. She builds transparent layers until she achieves the effect of light and colour that catches the viewer’s eye. She sometimes also uses a dry brush technique on illustration boards.

Aside from the controversial and political issues, Anita is extremely interested in emerging technologies, nature, science, anthropology and new medicines. Her personal art-pieces typically include one of these following categories: gender, natural world, evolution, religious and/or science and appreciates the overwhelming amount of new information. This famous illustrator believes that “in illustration, we can really almost draw anything” and that “we can draw what doesn’t exist”. This can be seen in the article If She Can Make It There… when she insists on inspiring aspiring illustrators.

An example of Anita’s famous work is a painting called The Vision Thing, October 2003, for the cover of a The New Yorker magazine, which contains a silly expressive portrait of the current president at the time, George W. Bush.

Kunz, Anita. “The Vision Thing”, The New Yorker magazine cover, 2003.

He has blinders covering his eyes, and he is riding a horse in an environment that seems to be depicted as his hometown in Texas. The colour palette of this piece is very earth-toned and the orange and red hues contrasts with the hints of green and blue on his shirt and the sky. Anita is conveying a setting by adding a horse and blinders which have the viewers question the specific theme of this magazine cover. This artwork was painted during a stressful time for Americans. A time when all the citizens were worried about the state concerning their president and the state of their own Country. The public believes that President Bush was avoiding all of their issues. The blinders covering the man’s eyes represent his blindness to the needs of his people, and the shaken expression of the horse embodies the people who are worried about where he is going with his decisions.

Another example of her famous art piece is called Hands, from 1997, which was published in Time magazine.

Kunz, Anita. “Hands”, 1997.

The illustration consists of various hands of different colours and shape. They are all noticeably reaching towards the sky. The tone of this artwork is very warm with some contrasting cool green colours in the sky. Watercolour, gouache and collage elements were used to create this cover, over a graphite sketch on an illustration board. This image is very meaningful and metaphorical. The illustrator created this image for an article about the global AIDS epidemic that was happening at the time of this article. The diversity of the sizes and the colours of the hands make it understandable that individuals of all ages and races could and are affected by this illness. Anita tries to capture hope with the sun rays, for a possible cure to this disease.


In essence, Anita Kunz is an artist that focuses on the message of her works more than their visual appeal.


NARUSEVICIUS, VYTAS. “Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada, 1965-1980.” BC Studies, no. 189, Spring2016, pp. 176-177. EBSCOhost, <>

Wikipedia. “Anita Kunz”. September 17, 2017. Wikipedia.


Wikipedia. “Canadian Art”. October 11, 2017. Wikipedia.


Chefas, Stefanie. “Interview with Anita Kunz”.


Kennedy, Martha. “Overview” Canadian Counterpoint: Illustrations by Anita Kunz.


Kennedy, Martha. “Online Exhibition”. Canadian Counterpoint: Illustrations by Anita Kunz.


Deziel, Shanda and Amy Cameron. “If She Can Make It There..” Maclean’s, vol. 114, no. 21, 21 May 2001, p. 8. EBSCOhost, <>

“Anita Kunz”. The Illustration Watercooler. November 16, 2009.


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