In 1949, Cunningham settled in St. Augustine, Florida and opened a curio shop called "The Over-Fork Gallery" where he continued to paint in relative obscurity. In his spare time, he painted genre scenes, primarily landscapes of the places he saw during his lifetime: Maine, New York, Nova Scotia, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
A loner from an early age and self-taught as an artist, Earl Cunningham combines fact, fantasy and his own life experiences in paintings filled with vibrancy and confidence of life itself. His work reflects his own unique vision of the world and his naïve style speaks of joy and happiness. His glorious, vivid colors have given him the reputation of being an American Primitive Fauve.
Since his death in 1977, Cunningham's work has received an overwhelming amount of attention and he has secured a place as a major Twentieth Century American Folk artist. In 1986, The Museum of American Art, New York, launched a national tour of his works. Since then, his paintings have not only been shown throughout the country, but a number of museums have also acquired his work, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Virginia.
In November 1998, the City of Orlando opened a new museum, The Mennello Museum of American Art, that is situated on a beautiful lake in the cultural Loch Haven Park in Orlando, Florida. The basis of the museum's collection is the work of Earl Cunningham, whose paintings were donated by collectors: Marilyn (1925-2006) and Michael Mennello.
In a recent review discussing Cunningham's paintings, art critic, Roberta Smith described his work as "Fantastic" and discussed the wonderful and odd spatial illusion of his images. "His paintings seem suspended in a world of pure, highly reflected light, like so many forms trapped in beautiful amber." (R. Smith, New York Times, February 17, 1995, p. C-30)
Earl Cunningham's paintings were described by noted art critic, Roberta Smith as "a weird fusion of traditional folk art and pop culture. [Cunningham's] world is not only fabulously Technicolored, with skies tending toward hot pinks and yellows, and rivers and bays toward red or brown or ochre. It also teems with bright, often closely observed flora and fauna ... all rendered in unexpected textures and often ingenious brushwork." (R. Smith, New York Times, February 17, 1995, p. C-30)
H. Barbara Weinberg describes viewing Cunningham's works as summoning "our own associations, recollections, fantasies, and reveries, and they invite us to speculate about their meanings, as if we were trying to interpret our own dreams." (H. B. Weinberg, Earl Cunningham, Dreams Realized, 1998, p. 24-25)
No matter the viewer's level of knowledge of art, no one can deny that to stand "face to canvas" with one of Cunningham's works is to truely be drawn into a fanciful and detailed world that is at once believable, yet fantastic; nostalgic, yet vividly real.
While Earl Cunningham's paintings are best appreciated in person, as is any great work of art, the best attempt to preserve colors, tones, and the sense of light and shadows have been made in this presentation of his work.