Celebrating his 80th birthday this year, one might expect that sculpture artist Richard Hunt is beginning to slow down, but this is hardly the case. With a growing list of current commissions, Hunt can be found at work in the same studio space he’s occupied since 1971; albeit, the piles of left-over chrome steel have multiplied since that time.
The sixty minute Artist Talk hosted by the MCA on January 29 was one of those rare occasions to listen to a living, legendary artist address questions regarding his process and sources of inspiration. The discussion co-led by Naomi Beckwith, the Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator at the MCA, and Daniel Schulman, the Director of Visual Arts at the Chicago Cultural Center, enabled Hunt to provide personal accounts regarding his sources of inspiration and creative process. Through his exposure to sculptural works by artists Julio González and Pablo Picasso, Hunt was inspired to take a jewelry/metalsmithing class at the School of the Art Institute, where he was enrolled as a student. At the time, SAIC did not have a welding/direct metal program, so Hunt set up a small studio in the basement of his parent’s home. The early signs of his success were imminent when Hunt sold one of his pieces to the Museum of Modern Art, while still a student at SAIC. Following graduation, Hunt began to exhibit at the Allen Gallery in New York City, a long distance from Texas where he was stationed in the army. Hunt recalled memories of driving his station wagon from Texas to NYC to transport his finished works. As the discussion continued, Hunt shared that his preferred metal of choice was chrome metal. When questioned on his choice for found metals, Hunt candidly responded, “Not only that it already had a life, but that it was less expensive.”
Hunt looks to the scrap metal pieces strewn about his studio for inspiration, claiming that these pieces help suggest the next thing he should make. Hunt’s direct metal approach allows him to fuse these items together, and experiment with also taking them apart. He particularly enjoys the improvisation aspect that this approach permits. Although lesser known for his works on paper, Hunt described these paper-based works as expressive gestures which allow the drawing to travel off the paper, indulging his interest in objects that take flight in the space around us. As the talk came to an end, the facilitator asked whether Hunt considers himself an abstract artist. With his response, Hunt induced a collective laugh from the members of the packed auditorium, as he stated “I would call myself an abstract artist, but some would say, in a way, that’s calling yourself nothing.”
There are currently two Hunt exhibitions running in Chicago through March 29; MCA DNA: Richard Hunt and Richard Hunt: Sixty Years of Sculpture at the Chicago Cultural Center.