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News :: International
Sculpture Artist Receives Life Achievement Award
29 Apr 2009
For the most part, his representationalist sculpture captures and sets forth a message with the force of a sudden wind storm. And in a city held together by threads of promise, the sculpture of the artist Richard Hunt breaks free from formality and brings one quickly into a realm of light, text, and shadow which only folded, hammered, heated and burnished bronzes and steels can do. His work directs, without speaking.
richardhunt2.jpg
SOMETHING OF VALUE
A native Chicagoan, Hunt’s interest in the visual arts can be traced to his early youth on the city’s south side. In 1955, while a student at the venerable Art Institute of Chicago, he began exhibiting his sculpture around Chicago’s small galleries, art fairs and local centers. “During the twelve years that followed,” he says in an artist statement, “my sculptural development grew as a private, independent, studio-based, self-generated activity that responded to the stimuli I supplied and the skills I could master.”

And he has, indeed, mastered the fine art of the ancients. Come April 29, 2009, the International Sculpture Center will honor Mr. Hunt with its 18th Annual Life Time Achievement Award at a gala in the Chicago Cultural Center. Previous recipients include Sir. Anthony Caro, Elizabeth Catlett, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Nam June Paik.

“The ISC is delighted to honor this most deserving artist,” said Johannah Hutchison, Executive Director of the International Sculpture Center in a release, “We look forward to celebrating the career of this well-loved artist. It will be wonderful to honor Richard Hunt in his hometown where his work graces the city and where he has touched so many in the local community.”

It’s Chicago, who’s first non-indigenous settler was, as is Hunt, a man of African descent. It’s Chicago; Al Capone; the Daleys; ‘Harold’; Algren, and Bellow, and Sandburg, and Terkle; it’s Jesse, and Jordan, and that ‘skinny kid with a funny sounding name”, and it’s more architectural wonders than…well anywhere. Now firmly entrenched into this rich, and sometimes tasteful, tradition is cemented Richard Hunt of Englewood, sculptor.

Hunt and his friend of 30 years, retired surgeon and renowned art collector Walter Evans and I recently took a ride through an April hail storm to the David Weinberg Gallery in the city’s River North Art District. An exhibition of his work currently stands there. When questioned as to whether the un-familiar, un-trained eye could properly interpret and appreciate his work, Hunt was quick to retort, “Don’t put your notions of eighteenth century education and art on the American people. If you’re asking, ‘do fifty percent of people know about this or that artist’, the answer is probably no. But people do know what they like, and what appeals to them, yes. And that’s sophisticated enough.”

His commitment to public art is clearly exemplified with ‘Why’, a cast bronze at The University of Chicago; ‘Slabs of the Sunburnt West’, a welded bronze at the Memorial to Carl Sandburg, University of Illinois at Chicago; ‘Illinois River Landscape’, welded steel at the State of Illinois Building, Chicago; ‘Man’s Way, Nature’s Way’, welded stainless steel, California EPA Building, Sacramento, and many more works in locales around the globe.

‘Play’, a work began in 1967, was a commissioned sculpture which, Hunt says, “…my studio could not accommodate.” He writes in his early notes, “’Play’, as I look back on it, began what has been a second career for me, that of a public sculptor. The dimensions of this second career, which remains inextricably linked with the first, were not clear in that beginning, and have only become apparent to me with time and reflection on its course.”
The work, of welded corten steel, now stands at the John J. Madden Mental Health Center in Hines, Illinois. By then however, Hunt had exhibited at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (the youngest artist to date to have done so), and at present has more public work on display than any other sculptor.

“Any of these pieces could be ‘public art’ even though they were not necessarily conceived as such”, he says of the works current in the Weinberg, “Artists are empathetic. You feel what other people feel.”

The sure realization one reaches when entering a gallery of Richard Hunt sculptures, irrespective of the point from which one views them, is the depth and angles of the work. They reach and stretch upward, from floors, from walls. They appear to search and ultimately find dramatic completions. Some appear preparing to launch, to move fluidly up and through the air.

Walking among his creations Richard enlightens me, “The reason for art being part of our lives, is because people make it part of our lives. It’s always been, but since the enlightenment, skill was applied to matters of taste, and you could say now it’s been democratized”.

Aaron Ott, curator of the Weinberg Gallery shared, “His work has a signature, Richard’s work. You know instantly it’s his. There’s no confusing it with something else. There’s lots of flight. So much of it has to do with flight.” A welded stainless steel work, ‘Low Flight’, rises in a heavy spiral from the floor at the entrance of the exhibit. To its left, ‘Family Tree’, a welded bronze rises in a swerved bow with a realization of limbs ultimately flowing outward in various directions. There are no doldrums in this space, nothing venal.

“I find Richard’s work to be iconic’, said Evans, who happens to own four of the sculptor’s works and has recently designated the Savannah College of Art and Design as the recipient of 70 pieces from his extensive personal collection. “He’s a master of this art form, and when I first saw his work, it just spoke to me. As a surgeon”, he continued, “ (the works) were like organic matter. These pieces are so life like.” “Pegasus”, Hunt reminds him, “’Pegasus’, it was the first piece,” turning to make sure I get it, “the winged horse.”

Asked what he found out about himself through his work, Mr. Hunt was quick to laugh, “I found out what I like to do. It’s not like a lightening bolt came down from the sky.” And what he likes to do was influenced by the work of both the Spanish-born, French sculptor Julio Gonzales and his friend, Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Piccasso. Those two had met in Paris and formed a lasting friendship. And by the time Picasso’s ‘Head of a Woman’ was placed on Chicago’s Daley Plaza and initially scorned as ‘unintelligible modern art’, Richard Hunt had thrice been awarded The Logan Prize, from The Art Institute of Chicago, a Palmer Prize, a Campana Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship (2), an Artist Residency at Yale, exhibited solo in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cleveland, for starters. ‘Figurehead’, welded aluminum was standing at Ridgewwod High School in Norridge, Illinois, as was
‘Play’, in Hines, Illinois. Hunt’s sculpture is now part of permanent museum collections at The Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., the National Museum of Israel, Jerusalem, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, the Museum of the Twentieth Century, Vienna, Austria, and on , and on.

In a 1989 statement, Hunt said, “Outside of the studio, the sculptor’s internal dialogue gives way to the dialogue that a sculpture sets up with the environment the sculpture is created for.” This, of course, calls to whether the sculptor accepts visual art as a central factor in human in existence? Hunt has done several ‘faith’ related pieces, e.g. ‘Cross’, a welded bronze, St. Matthew’s Church, Chicago; ‘The Bush Was Not Consumed’, welded brass and bronze, and ‘Eternal Life’, welded bronze, both of Temple B’nai Israel, Kankakee, IL; ‘Altar, Lectern, Tabernacle, Crucifix’, stone, steel, stainless steel, Holy Angels Church, Chicago; ‘St. Procopius’, welded bronze, St. Procopius Abbey, Lisle, Illinois; ‘Three Crosses’, welded stainless steel and bronze, University Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina; and ‘Memorial Cross’, welded bronze, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. At what point does art become, life?
“I have a religious background”, Hunt said. “I’m not particularly practicing a religion, but as I said, I have a religious background, and I call on that when I am doing religious work. Like I said earlier, no lightening bolt came down from on high when it comes to my work.”

Standing between his ‘Jupiter’, welded bronze, a wild-like piece, like a lion or dragon hung from the wall of the Weinberg Gallery, and ‘Sea Change’, welded bronze with it’s winged waves and deep folds, its caverns, one can see the shimmering up close. Gouges share space with the brushed and textured. “He goes back and forth, back and forth”, Ott explains. “He never stops. He’s never done. Bronze comes raw. He loves the material. The shine, the gouging is unique.” And now, it is nothing short of illuminating.

The crew at the Weinberg appears very upbeat about the exhibit. Its opening produced one of the largest turnouts in the gallery’s history. “The folks were just full of goodwill. There were people here from (Richard’s) high school days”, Ott said. Then there’s the Achievement Award. “It’s the first time a show is here when the Award comes around.”

I wondered if there had been a particular piece, a mass of steel or bronze which Hunt wrestled with as Abraham with the angel. Was it ‘Instrument of Change’, a 30 inch bronze tribute to Nelson Mandela which Evans had commissioned following Mandela’s visit to Detroit? What about, ‘I Have Been to the Mountain’, welded corten steel, now at the Martin Luther King Memorial, Memphis, Tennessee?

“You get into a dialogue with a piece”, Hunt relates. “You add to the process. There’s nuance and change over time. There are equivalents in music. Some flow, some staccato, some movements should be subtle. There’s no last word though. There are cessations of dialogue”. “For how long?”, I asked. “It could be minutes, it could be days”, he said. “Twenty-minutes?”. “Twenty-years”, he responded.

Richard Hunt remains laid back with his achievements and talent. After years of climbing up and down scaffolds and commitment and fascinations, of steel and stone which sometimes resist redemption, of his elegant passion, the sculptor looks forward to his next project. “That’s always the best one, the current on going one”, he smiles. Is he pleased with his most recent recognition? “Of course. Awards are what they are. It’s an assessment of an artist work. I’d rather have it than not.”

We should say the same of this kind, creative, valuable man.
See also:
http://www.jefferymcnary.blogspot.com

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