After a busy career as a military physician, Stan Unser spends retirement getting back to the craft he loved first. Growing up in a Minnesota household with two painters for parents, Unser described the sources of influence he was brought up with as seemingly endless.
“When I was a child my parents both painted, so I guess I assumed everybody did,” Unser said. As a teen, he discovered himself to be a fast learner and an impressive realist. Soon, he went on to study art and philosophy for two years in college before the untimely and life-altering loss of his younger brother.
Art took a side seat to medical school, and Unser earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1982 with an Army scholarship. After his military service, he practiced for the remainder of his career at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, before retiring his license in 2016.
He also continued to practice his craft alongside his career. “Even as a physician, I was still doing artwork for people sometimes, and I was proud to keep doing that,” Unser said.
Seven years into retirement, Unser says the drive to create engaging work keeps him motivated daily to stay productive. “I’m still experimenting and trying new stuff. I’ve gotten the, kind of, the style, and I’m more comfortable with abstract backgrounds and a figurative component,” Unser said, delving into the process he’s developed over the past several years. “I’m starting to use AI now for my figurative components, which is kind of cool. [With AI] you get kind of unexpected results. And I like unexpected things, because my main focus is trying to be interesting and get people to look at the picture rather than just walk by.”
Pulling influence from a wide range of artists, including Gustav Klimt and Maggie Taylor, Unser said the desire to create new and intriguing pieces, much like solving a puzzle, is a persistent pursuit in his mind.
His process is comprised of three primary parts: a Photoshop phase for combining prompted AI images and transferring those images to dissolvable paper; an acrylic phase for texture, mixed media, metal foils and gels; and an oil phase when Unser paints over his product to pull out and enhance details. The images yielded through this process marry aspects of symbolist works with the more warm, magical aspects of surrealism that Unser terms aptly as “abstract figurative digital collage.”
While the product may be clear in mind, Unser seeks to provide work that keeps viewers engaged and formulating their own narratives. “Creating viewer involvement is my main purpose. I try to be interesting and somewhat edgy but still aesthetic without an obnoxious number of gimmicks,” he said. “I like to allow some ambiguity and abstraction that invites the viewer to create their own interpretation of the work. I want people to see it and recognize the aesthetic as something they like. I do like people recognizing the work as something they don’t see every day.”