A work of art must relate something that does not appear in its visible form. (1)
--Giorgio de Chirico
Nineteen seventy-four was a pivotal year for Bryan Hunt. In only twelve months, he created five temporal structures that moved his work in a new direction, layering a firm foundation for years of intense creativity. These five works—Empire State With Hindenburg, Nankow Pass (Wall of China), Hoover Dam, Tower of Babel, and the first of a series of airships—with their curious amalgamation of art, science, technology and philosophy were radically different from sculpture then being shown in galleries and museums.
During the next six years, Hunt produced a series of lakes, quarries, airships, and waterfalls with the same philosophical premise even though they differed visually from the 1974, more realistic works. This exhibition Bryan Hunt Early Works: Sculpture and Drawing 1974-1980 explores the development of his sculpture, with related works on paper included because he sees drawing as “the most immediate solution of a vision.”(2)
Hunt's style began to evolve with his early aspirations to become an architect which were put aside when he realized the "limitation of scale and application." (3) After leaving the University of South Florida in 1967, he worked at the Kennedy Space Center as an engineer's aid, experiencing first-hand the American Space Program. He completed one of his first paintings, Extended Journey, during the summer of 1968 and presented it to the Director of the Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
That fall Hunt moved to Los Angeles, where he received his B.F.A. from Otis Art Institute in 1971. He left the following year for New York to participate in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. Returning to Los Angeles in 1973, he continued making art while supporting himself with a variety of odd jobs, including working for an architect and as a carpenter, knowing at some point he would return to New York City.
A bout of hepatitis in 1973 forced Hunt to stay in bed, and it was during this time that he began reading Jean Paul Sartre, Jorge Luis Borges, Roland Barthes and Joseph Campbell. Up to this point, Hunt had been looking at the art of Barnett Newman and experimenting with different ways of extending what he had done. Hunt was fascinated by Earthworks (a movement during the sixties and seventies that used the earth as its primary vehicle of expression) and aware of Minimalism's strong hold on the national art scene.
After a period of intense reflection and reevaluation, he decided to "quit thinking about modern art expectations and find other sources of expression, more reflective of me and my experience." His search took him back to the sources that had fascinated him all his life: science, literature and philosophy. Thus the stage was set for 1974.
An early study of architecture, working with an architect and employment at the Kennedy Space Center, provoked certain attitudes and ways of looking at existing structures. Hunt realized he had been resisting this in order to make something that looked like "art." Abandoning ideas and axioms of the art world, Hunt decided to build the Empire State Building as he envisioned it and as the original plans anticipated, with the Hindenburg moored at the top.
He visualized the Empire State Building as a giant earth object and with the Hindenburg attached, in a simplified architectural sense, as both a post and lintel and a cantal ever. Hunt saw sculptural qualities in an architectural structure while being attracted to the mixture of architecture and contemporary art. On a metaphorical level, he liked the idea of joining an American archetype with a zepplin, which at that time was the German symbol of peace.
Hunt's experiments took place behind closed doors, "just to see what the structure would be, not thinking that it's supposed to be art." Because scale was crucial to his concept, he made the structure eight feet high, just out of human reach, perhaps an extension of the Greenbergian credo that all sculpture is scaled to the figure.
The model was based on the original blueprints of the Empire State Building which revealed the scale relationship between them as two to one. The Empire State Building is 1250 feet high and the Hindenburg was 804 feet long, making the airship two-thirds the size of the building.
The challenge was to find a way to simulate a floating dirigible. The solution, after several trips to model supply stores rather than an art store, was a lightweight airship made of silk and balsa wood and a small steel rod set at an angle to cantalever the structure.
In the mid-seventies, many artists were using found or industrial materials and were committed to creating works true to the nature of the materials. For example, Richard Serra and Donald Judd were using industrial metal while John Chamberlain found his material in wrecked cars. Instead of found objects or existing material, Hunt chose iconic structures and used traditional materials of wood, plaster and later bronze.
Hunt's interest in the history of dirigibles led him to read more about Industrialism, particularly the invention by philosopher John Locke of the Universal Joint, an apparatus which made the development of a variety of engines possible. The most important aspect of the Universal Joint is that it rotates on a central hinge, allowing it to move in three directions or on three planes. Hunt made his own variation of the Universal Joint, a simplified and abstracted form resembling two airships coming together at a central point. Like the apparatus that inspired it, Hunt's Universal Joint moved in three dimensions.
At this point one begins to see a recurring theme in Hunt's work: the use of a recognizable form to represent a universal idea. Hunt distills the writing of Borges, particularly reflecting Borges' use of simplified imagery to express a complicated point of view.
In this case, the simple image is two objects coming together via a shape in the middle, performing as Hunt thought sculpture should and could—making it possible to understand the principle of the whole by seeing all the parts. This idea is similar to the Greek concept of sculpture in which all the components come together to create the whole or the ideal.
Hunt continued to make airships, exploring a variety of possible shapes based on historical precedence. Using the scale of eight feet established by his Empire State Building, Hunt placed his next airship directly on the wall, which he saw not as an architectural component, but as negative space. Although Hunt cannot eliminate the wall, he is proposing that his viewers believe the sculptural presence of the airship is more powerful than the wall supporting it transforming the white wall into unfilled space. Seen as a void, the airship's path is enigmatic; it could be coming, going or orbiting, depending on the orientation of the viewer. By keeping it an arm's reach from even the tallest person, a physical distance is established, as if one were viewing a full-scale airship from the ground. Again, Hunt is asking his viewer to suspend reality as it relates to scale and distance.
Continuing his search for existing monuments, Hunt looked—via Campbell and Barthes—to the ancient world, particularly Sumerian and Babylonian cultures. He chose the Tower of Babel as his subject, but, since the image exists only in biblical text, used Sumerian ziggurats (stone spiraling towers) for inspiration. What intrigued him was that the image of a spiral has multiple meanings, not all immediately apparent to the viewer.
The story of Babel can be found in Genesis 11:1-9. It tells of a time when all the world spoke a common language and planned together to build a tower that would reach to the heavens. When God discovered their plan, He said, "Come let us confuse their language, so they might not understand one another's speech." He scattered them "across the face of the entire earth; and they stopped building the city.”(4)
Borges' short story "The Library of Babel" also had an impact on Hunt. It begins:
The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air-shafts between, surrounded by very low railings....Also, through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. (5)
Borges uses the metaphor of a spiraling, infinite library to describe his concept of the universe. In Borges' version, most people die very close to where they were born, the result, perhaps, of having been scattered after trying to build a tower to heaven. The library imagery used here seems key, for books are the keepers of a language and language was the cause of the downfall.
Hunt's appraisal was also influenced by Pieter Bruegel's vision of Babel, one of the best known paintings on the subject, and by contemporary versions of the spiral such as Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, 1971 and Bruce Nauman's Window or Wall Sign, 1967.
An understanding of the ziggurat, how it functioned and how it was built, was satisfying for Hunt, but not his final objective. According to the artist, the most important goal was to make a sculpture that demystified the experience of scale because it was both intimate and monumental at the same time. Hunt's version is so small and movable it seems almost a "portable Babel." Yet, the idea is huge, something that rests within the collective memory of his viewers. And the scale relationship reinforces Borge's point. Just as the viewer is not sure where he or she stands in reference to Hunt's Babel, so is Borges' reader suspended on the spiral staircase, not knowing their exact location.
It is interesting that Nauman's Window or Wall Sign was specifically influential on Hunt's version of the Tower of Babel. Nauman's image embodies not only a spiral but the words "the true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths," indicating that the role of the artist is to codify language into a simplified object—like Hunt's pared down tower—a role made necessary after the confusion of the language and scattering of the people following the attempt to build the Tower of Babel.
Three drawings, Tower of Babel (Hexagonal), Tower of Babel (Pyramidal) and Tower Babel (Circular) were made as studies for Hunt's version. The challenge to the artist was to take a circle—and here Hunt repeated the eighteen sided shape of an airship—a hexagon and a square and work them into an ascending spiral.
The tower is perpetually unfinished because God commanded it so. However, unlike Bruegel who left his tower incomplete, Hunt finished his cone in white, a sculptural element functioning both as sky and unfilled space, similar to the use Hunt ascribes to the white walls connected to his airships.
At this point, Hunt realized his use of an existing image contained in a collective memory, or what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious, yet could not be apprehended because of its size—could take sculpture in a new direction. The possibilities and opportunities were realized in Nankow Pass (Wall of China), 1974.
Before beginning the sculpture, Hunt immersed himself in the history of the Wall of China, imperial China's northern defensive barrier and the longest such fortification ever built, stretching approximately 1,500 miles, totaling over 4,000 miles with all of its branches. In the 3rd century B.C., the first Qin emperor connected the walls that had been built by earlier feudal lords, creating the wall. The wall was refortified and repaired over the centuries with many of the extensions built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), from which much of the present wall dates. The wall is made of different material in different places, depending on what was available in that part of the country. In height, it ranges from twenty feet to fifty feet, with watch towers set at regular intervals, measuring twice the distance an arrow can fly. The purposes of the wall were to keep out northern nomadic tribes, to transport troops along the top of the wall and to communicate with the capital via smoke and fire signals passed from one watch tower to the next.
What appealed to Hunt about the Wall of China were its myriad uses and interpretations. It is the largest and oldest structure of its kind. It exists as a physical boundary to keep some things in and some things out. It is the only manmade structure the astronauts could see when orbiting. It was an Earthwork. During his historical trip to China in 1974, Richard Nixon walked on the wall, an event linking ancient history to current events.
Bronze is one of the great achievements of Chinese culture and therefore it seemed natural to Hunt to cast this sculpture in bronze, even though the medium was then considered taboo for contemporary art. Because it was retardare, Hunt felt it to be all the more radical, made even more surprising by the use of an iconic image translated into an intimate form. The combination of the two was both unexpected and extreme.
The decision to cast the Wall of China in bronze was equally important on a purely technical level. Because he could not afford bronze, Hunt worked in the foundry until the piece was cast. In the process, he learned about casting, an important skill for an artist who was to work in bronze for the next fifteen years.
Hunt continued to look to monuments and earthworks for inspiration. However, unlike Earthwork artists such as Michael Heizer who was processing the landscape, Hunt selected monuments that appealed to him and simply eliminated the landscape. By choosing iconic images and reducing them in scale, Hunt plays with the perception of the viewer—the object is small yet the memory of the image remains monumental.
Hoover Dam became a subject because of its monumentality and shape. The artist was attracted to the function of the dam and the incredible strength needed to hold water back. Conceptually, he imagined it as a gigantic plug or wedge. Visually, he saw the torso or breastplate shape of the dam as a huge Samson, straining to keep the water at bay. In his Hoover Dam, Hunt made something that could transcend the objectivity of itself to be read abstractly as an independent shape.
In addition to monumental structures, Hunt found inspiration in science. "I didn't want to draw from the same sources as other artists did," he said, "I wanted to explore new phenomena and visions."
An aspect of science, particularly of the Space Program, that appealed to Hunt was "timeliness." During this six-year period the Viking went to Mars and transmitted photographs of Phobos, one of Mars' oddly shaped moons. Hunt immediately saw the sculptural qualities in the potato-shaped moon. He liked the fact that it was immediate and fresh information. Phobos appealed to him because it was a unique celestial object, something from a great distance that could be reduced to an intimate size.
In addition to its elongated shape -it is fourteen miles long and seventeen miles in diameter -another distinguishing characteristic of Phobos is its huge craters. In searching for a medium that could best recreate a similar looking surface, Hunt chose wax. After shaping the wax to resemble the photographs of Phobos, Hunt took various heated tools and pushed them into the surface, creating a random number of large and small craters, a technique that simulated the actual creation of the craters where the surface was displaced, not eliminated. The shape of Hunt's Phobos was based on photographs. Its craters were drawn both from photographs and the imagination of the artist, who wanted to translate the object, not recreate it.
Gate of Ishtar and Golden Gate II
While making these sculptures based on historical and scientific phenomena, Hunt continued to build airships, inspired by the idea of being out in nature and up in the air. Yet, he wanted to regain a sense of structure so he made two similar works, Gate of Ishtar, 1976 and Golden Gate II, 1976.
Here, Hunt found his sources in historical and historical references. Ishtar was the gate to Babylon, now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany and the Golden Gate is a painting of the same name by Giotto in the Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy. Although the works appear similar in shape, they evoke contrasting sentiments. Surface is the key to the feeling generated. Ishtar is black and exists as an object, a darkness. With its black facade and gaping passageway, it seems more threatening than the Golden Gate, which, made of silk and gold leaf, takes on a lighter, diaphanous appearance. Structure seems secondary to surface. Using black, which absorbs light, Hunt creates an opaque barrier in Gate of Ishtar by using gold and white, colors which reflect the light, he creates a shimmering surface. Both function as openings, yet one gets the distinct impression what lies beyond (or before) each differs drastically, illustrating American writer Fielding Dawson's sentiments that "Surface is the zenith of illusion."
Although these two small sculptures initially seem unrelated to Hunt's other work, there is a philosophical connection. Both exist as barriers, similar to the Wall of China, Hoover Dam and even the Tower of Babel. Like his later lakes and quarries, both suggest something that lies beyond, attainable only through a small slot or passageway. And as much of his earlier work, they deal with the differentiation between positive and negative space.
Odeon, 1976, a small sculpture, came next. Hunt liked the classic shape of the amphitheatre with its shelves of seats arranged in a semi-circle. Seeing a connection between object and material, Hunt also used this as an opportunity to carve limestone. The wooden base, a found object on which the bowl shape rests, is particularly effective in the way it repeats the time weathered marks on the miniature amphitheatre. In Odeon, Hunt extracts the structure out of the environment, similar to what he would do with his lakes and quarries.
Lakes and Quarries
Using wax proved instrumental to the series of lakes created the following year, in 1976. Again, working empirically, Hunt first studied maps of lakes in the Sierra Nevadas, looking for names evocative of the shapes of the lakes. For example, Edison is a trapezoid, Jawbone a triangle, Devil's Tub is oval and Twin Lakes two circles. However, First Lake, the first of the series, is both conceptual and referential. Unrelated to a specific shape, it was inspired by childhood memories of a lake in Indiana.
These first works recreated the lake tops and were simply flat surfaces of wax. "I was making tops of lakes because I couldn't resolve the problem of visualizing the bottom," Hunt said. He knew he could simply make up the shape of the bottom, yet he wanted his departure point to be reality, from which he could abstract. Working from topographical maps, Hunt determined the outlines of the lakes at that moment in time and made changes from that.
In making these sculptures, Hunt addressed several art historical concerns. Particularly influential to Hunt were the small wooden cups of Constantin Brancusi, which exist both as objects and sculptural shapes. Like Brancusi's cups, Hunt's lakes were created to stand alone, leaning off-axis, enabling the viewer to walk around the piece experiencing both the bottom and top, thus adding the dimension of time to the viewing experience.
Although the shapes of the cups and the lakes are similar, the functions differ. A cup holds water while the lake is water; in other words, one is nature while the other is a tool.
By working and reworking the surfaces (made possible by the pliable nature of wax) Hunt brought a painterly surface to the exterior, reminiscent of the gestural quality of Abstract Expressionism. The tactile aspect of the early lakes was inspired by the sculpted, carved paint strokes of van Gogh's skies. Hunt was also well aware of the Minimalist doctrine that dominated thinking at that time, particularly the work of Carl Andre.
Rather than extending the work of the Minimalists, Hunt sought to challenge them when possible. Square Lake has been seen as a reference to Andre's squares. Yet, it is more than that. As Hunt sees it, he took an object (the surface of the lake) and made something flatter than a square. Perceptually, nothing is flatter than the surface of a lake, because it exists only as surface, without depth, whereas the Minimalist squares, no matter how thin, still have depth. When it came to the base, however, Hunt, like the Minimalists before him, eliminated it, choosing to place his lakes directly on the floor.
Like his earlier works, Hunt pulled these lakes out of the landscape and re-referenced them to a personal experience. The difference, however, is that the reference points of earlier works like the Empire State with Hindenburg and Nankow Pass (Wall of China) exist. The lakes seem shocking at first because a viewer cannot experience a lake in its entirety the way it is presented here. By extracting it from nature, Hunt presents a unique look at a body of water, reversing mass from its natural, contained condition.
Scale is indicated by large surface marks for a small lake and small surface marks for a large lake. Palm Lake, 1976 is a tiny sculpture made from the mold of the artist's cupped hand, once again affirming a sense of scale in a surprising manner and Duchampian mode.
Hunt is drawn to the vulcanism inherent in his material. In order to be cast, bronze first must exist as a liquid, similar to the viscous state of the lake. In solid form, it simulates the arrested movement of water.
The quarry sculptures have the same basic premise as the lake sculptures, except on a larger scale and with more of the bottom exposed. Hunt had been looking at the landscape paintings of Paul Cezanne and after coming across the Bibemus series, a group of quarry paintings, decided to make his own water filled quarry. The cutting and chopping of the sculpture suggest parallels with cut stones of a quarry.
All three of the quarries are unspecific. The only outside reference is Cubit Quarry, in which the negative slot measures a cubit lengthwise. (A cubit is the length from the elbow to the fist.) Monolith is so named for the island—actually a stone—in the center of the quarry. Here, Hunt has reversed the way it would be read in nature by presenting the island as negative space or a hole.
The waterfalls grew out of a reaction to the lakes which, to the artist, had begun to take on the characteristics of reclining or sleeping figures. He wanted to create a counterpart that was both active and standing, something with the presence of his Empire State with Hindenburg.
At the same time, he was becoming enamored with the romantic, sensual notion of traditional sculpture, working the surface like Giacometti and Rodin, and looking at De Kooning's Clamdiggers. Instead of the industrial materials insisted on by the Minimalists, Hunt wanted to mold and shape his forms and like Rodin, to give proof of the artist's hand.
Like First Lake, First Falls was a conceptual image, of nature but not drawn from it. Because it was not tied to reality, it could be anything and Hunt created a piece with a beginning and end, but without splashes, without segue, perhaps referencing Rodin who offered fragments of an object, not the completed image.
Hunt developed a makeshift armature using steel rebars and a stretcher, over which he poured the plaster. When it dried, he began chopping marks into the surface. He remembers thinking at the time, "I am making expressionistic sculpture that has a very definitive presence of what it is./I It had gravity and movement of falling water yet Hunt saw it also as a caryatid, reading the water as a gown or a shroud. Because Hunt has removed the natural combination of things that suggests context, he is freed to call it what he wants: water, a woman or a classical structure.
Step Falls followed. Hunt likens it to Brancusi's First Step: "Beginning with my First Falls, I saw a progression of comprehension of what nature is. I would take one step. I Still, Hunt's perception of nature was conceptual at this point and he was as concerned with formal problems as he was with the recreation of nature.
In each subsequent waterfall, the artist added an element that was not there before. Each one differs, growing out of a necessity to do something that the previous one did not do. First Falls is a straight column, Step Falls has a step, Shift shifts slightly to one side while Big Twist has a step, shift and then a twist. Complexities can be read both formally and literally. Visually, the waterfalls became more complicated by an added sense of time; conceptually they evoked the various aspects of falling water.
A waterfall, however, is more than the simple act of water falling. It describes and indicates a change in the earth-a seismic shift -where water is transformed from a horizontal flow to a vertical outpouring. Unlike a lake which is static contained water, a waterfall is uncontained except for its weight. Why did Marcel Duchamp place a waterfall in his last work? Perhaps precisely because it indicates the presence of a seismic shift in the earth over which water accelerates in a brilliance of air, light and water, moving over a hidden bed of rock.
Certain shapes recur from earlier images. Just as the Wall of China serpentines its way down the wall (this is reemphasized in the drawing), Shift appears to snake its way through the open space.
Like his lakes and monuments, Hunt extracts the waterfalls from nature. The step is actually a cliff, but taken out of context, the verticality of the water simply alludes to the presence of the cliff. And out of context, the form can be read on several levels, not only as a waterfall, but as a figure or an architectural component. The waterfalls are secured to the floor by concealed bolts (similar to the concealed structure of the rock which determines the shape of the falls) and stand alone without a base or platform, adding to the sense of isolation from nature.
As were his airships, the waterfalls were an exploration of and experimentation in working with balance, proportion and surface. Both were sequential investigations of the variety to be achieved with a single form, similar to Jasper Johns' use of the target, flag and map. In each case, Hunt made a First Falls or First Lake, but will not make a final falls or lake, because the systematic inquiries that led him to these forms remain open ended.
The waterfall drawings extend Hunt's idea of reading shapes on multiple levels. In White Line Drawing V, 1979 and Black Falls XXX, 1980, he reverses the negative and positive spaces: in one the viewer sees the falls as darker, positive space and in the other as lighter, negative space. In both cases, the shape of each is evocative of a torso or sometimes a figure.
Interestingly, the artist had not seen a waterfall until he was twenty-one and traveled from Florida to the West Coast. He still remembers seeing his first major waterfall at Yosemite that resembled a white figure emerging from a huge grey and green landscape. Size and scale, too, must certainly have made a lasting impression for these waterfalls measure over nine feet tall.
Double Niche and Cloak of Lorenzo
Double Niche and Cloak of Lorenzo mark a departure in Hunt's work. Instead of his solitary shapes, these sculptures have dual falls connected at the top, building on the idea of his Universal Joint, which can be seen as a metaphor for binding two forces. Each has a straight column juxtaposed with a serpentine, twisting shape. The tool work and intense manipulation of the plaster impart an expressive and gestural quality to both these sculptures.
In each work, the unfilled space can be seen as a figure. Double Niche suggests both a niche and a figure enclosed by the niche just as in Cloak of Lorenzo the waterfall becomes the structure and the unfilled space a cloaked figure. Hunt's reference was in homage to Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, the seventeenth century Italian painter, architect and sculptor.
Hunt placed each sculpture on a limestone column and capital, another radical departure from his earlier work that depended on the isolation of the object from its surroundings. The base lifts the work off the ground and into the air, similar to what transpires with an actual waterfall. Here, Hunt uses a base as a platform to contain the sculpture and to give it volume, moving against the current shibboleth of eliminating the base and making a calculated return to a 19th century academic presentation of form, in this case abstract rather than figurative.
It is revealing to compare these two works with the waterfall drawings dating from the same time, particularly Cycladic Dream, 1980, where the figure shifts back and forth between the background and foreground. As in the sculptures, the shape formed by the outline -the negative space -of the two falls creates its own waterfall. Abstractly, the image also forms a passage or gateway, similar to Gate of Ishtar or The Golden Gate II.
Bryan Hunt's sculptures and drawings reflect specific influences of science, literature and philosophy, a knowledge and comprehension of other artists' work and art movements and a way of looking at the world through nature. They have a consistent theme that binds them together pragmatically if not visually. Like Borges, who used simple ideas to communicate complex ideas, Hunt takes known, often iconic images and presents them in an even more simplified environment. It is as if he recognizes natural processes and then reverses them: color substitutes for air, surface for distance and size and scale are reduced. Yet, their presence alludes to a deeper, more intricate philosophical basis.
For instance, one can see Hunt's work as an exploration of the four elements: air, earth, fire and water. His first sculpture Empire State with Hindenburg, representing the element earth, pierces the sky, or the element air. The attached Hindenburg and later airships not only encapsulate the element air, they are lighter than it. Likewise, the Tower of Babel, built of the earth, soars beyond the sky to heaven. Even the bricks were strengthened by fire: "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." (6) Although Phobos is composed of dense material, it metaphorically floats weightlessly, trapped in the orbit of Mars. Hoover Dam, made of the earth, holds back water. Waterfalls are a mixture of air and water churned into a brilliance of light and color as they move over the broken earth.
The Hoover Dam provided the inspiration for Hunt's exploration of water in its various forms—lakes, quarries and waterfalls. Hunt uses fire to transform these images from wax, plaster or clay into bronze.
The elements have symbolic properties as well. For example, fire and air are masculine, earth and water are feminine. Hunt again reverses natural order by taking the feminine water and making it into the masculine shape of the waterfall. Conversely, the niche, which is empty space or air -a masculine property -is given a feminine shape. These masculine and feminine properties are present in much of Hunt's other work as well. Compare the inherent maleness of his Empire State with Hindenburg and the waterfalls to the feminine receptivity of the gates, lakes and quarries.
Many of Hunt's sculptures allude to the idea of passage or initiation. Both Golden Gate and the Gate of Ishtar are actual gateways, transporting the viewer from one side to the other. Double Niche and Cloak of Lorenzo transcend their objectivity to exist as abstract gates. Hoover Dam and Wall of China are walls of separation while the Tower of Babel divides—but could have connected -heaven and earth. Even the waterfalls are boundaries which either connect or separate, in the way they indicate a division of high and low ground but keep the water in a continuum. This idea of separation and connection points back to one of Hunt's earliest, simplest (but perhaps most ovarian) works, the Universal Joint, for many his drawings and sculptures take place at the center of the universal joint, where two points meet.
Hunt also seems to be dealing with the duality of the unconscious and conscious mind. The open slots, or holes, in the lakes and quarries, made to represent islands, become passageways to the murky darkness of the lake below, representing the separation of the unconscious from the conscious mind. Even the Tower of Babel, never finished in theology, was completed by Hunt, both as a formal consideration and as a visual representation of the joining of the unconscious with the conscious mind, the inner and outer aspects of the same reality.
Allegory may be present as well. For example, if Hunt sees the Hoover Dam as a huge Samson, then the water, which is feminine, could be Delilah. For the dam, which derives its power from the water thundering through the sluice gates, is rendered equally powerless when the water is stopped, just as Samson was undone when Delilah cut off his hair. Other images, such as the spiral are less specific and more universal. One psychologist, Dr. M.L. Franz sees the circle as the symbol of the Self, and the integration of the self with nature. (7) In different cultures and different religions, the circle or spiral can represent any number of things from man to God to never ending life. Along these lines, it should be noted that titles play an important role in Hunt's work, for the cognition of the image may have as much of an impact on the viewer as the object itself.
From 1974 to 1980, Bryan Hunt's explorations of manmade phenomena and his interest in nature resulted in the creation of visibly beautiful and technically compelling drawings and sculpture. However, Hunt clearly understands that these objects must have aspects beyond the common definition. Although he uses visible form and known structures, his works are laced with underlying meanings that differ for each viewer as, for example, experienced by a collective memory, understanding of sexual experience, knowledge of art and architecture and interest in current eyents, philosophy and literature.
It is in this polyvalent meaning that one finds the richness in Hunt's sculpture and drawing: a fall becomes the figure, the figure the niche, the niche the passage, the passage a place beyond. It is in transcendence of the specificity of the objects, that one comprehends the true range of Bryan Hunt's work.
Curator of Contemporary American Art
1. Giorgio de Chirico, Memorie della mia Vita, Dokumente, p. 12.
2. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes by Bryan Hunt came from a conversation between the artist and author June 25, 1991.
3. Phyliss Tuchman, "Bryan Hunt's Balancing Acts." ArtNews, October, 1985, p.66.
4. New American Standard Bible (La Habra, California: Foundation Press Publications, 1973.), pp. 14-15.
5. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths, Selected Stories and Other Writings (New York: New Directions Publishing Company, 1964.), p.51.
6. Ibid, New American Standard Bible, p. 14.
7. Carl Jung, M.-L Franz, Joseph L Henderson, Jolande Jacobi and Aniela Jaffe, Man and His Symbols (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1964) p. 240.