By April Gornik
North Haven, Long Island, NY, USA
Bryan Hunt is best known as an award-winning sculptor whose work has been commissioned for and bought by both public and private installations around the world. In 2014, he was commissioned to create a sculpture, entitled Axis Mundi, for the new One World Trade Center in New York City. He is also a painter and ceramicist, and a fellow New Yorker. I visited with him at his studio for this Conversation.
APRIL GORNIK: You worked at NASA in Florida in your early 20s. How did that impact your work? Were you already an artist when you worked there?
BRYAN HUNT: Just imagine, the late sixties, Cocoa Beach, being engineer’s aide at Kennedy Space Center, surfing and painting, being a wanna-be Picasso!
To witness Saturn V rocket launches, to be a minuscule part of the Apollo program and the Moon Landing … damn good times! The impact on me was the message that anything is possible. After two years at Kennedy Space Center I moved to Los Angeles to go to art school.
APRIL GORNIK: Some of your earliest work dealt with architecture (the Empire State Building, the Great Wall). Did you ever want to pretend, in the immortal words of George Costanza from Seinfeld, to be an architect?
BRYAN HUNT: I was pretty good at pretending when I was a kid, after all, pretending is an exercise of the imagination and it nurtures creativity.
I had thoughts of being an architect but it wasn’t my forte. I did love the drawing and design side of it, but not the numbers and the rules. I felt that making art would make me happier, I had no idea of where being an artist would lead me or how I would survive, but that uncertainty didn’t bother me.
|Empire State with Graf|
APRIL GORNIK: Do you think sculpture is like architecture, and vice versa? If so, how?
BRYAN HUNT: Very different worlds. One is a functional form (more or less), the other the embodiment of meaning.
Today, in the digital-driven world, architecture has been liberated with new methods of construction and new materials that can dazzle and have a sculptural feel ... and it’s a building! For instance, Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaus. Sculpture, on the other hand, if it uses digital processes of fabrication, it seems to lose something ... like it’s soul. It is seductive in a sort of effortlessness and presence, but I like things that reveal their inherent history of process, substance and touch.
APRIL GORNIK: Is there a dialogue now in your work between the built and the natural? After you did your earlier architecturally-referential work you started doing all your wonderfully disembodied, or should I say embodied, freestanding waterfalls and lakes. How do they relate to the earlier work?
|Fall Lake Falls|
BRYAN HUNT: Most of the 70’s “built” pieces are from a group I called “monuments and wonders.” They were basically the making of scaled versions of iconic structures like the Tower of Babel, the Wall of China, and the Hoover Dam. I was indulging in the three-dimensional object removed from its location and landscape.
The lakes and waterfalls came afterwards. I made them with plaster and wax then cast them into bronze. The water and its fluid energy morphs into a bronze figure with an autonomous life within a place of its own.
APRIL GORNIK: At the same time as your waterfall sculptures, you were making “airships”, which harken to your flight-related passion. They seem like your most consistent self-expression. What do they mean to you now after all these versions?
BRYAN HUNT: I’d say the “airship” form is a metaphysical, gravity-defying vessel of contemplation. It takes on many shapes and many metallic colors, the constant being that the airships buoyantly cantilever high above your head as if in flight. They’re made of balsa wood and silk paper and are tethered to a point on the wall.
In general, Air, Water, Mass, Energy, Gravity, Space in the form of sculpture and sometimes painting – these are my concerns, with the possibility of taking you somewhere (conceptually)
APRIL GORNIK: Can you talk more about your paintings, and how they differ from your sculpture? You use wonderful collage in the most recent of them.
BRYAN HUNT: I like an excuse to paint. When I undertake a large sculpture, I usually make a full scale drawing to figure out structurally how it will stand and where the center of gravity is. I draw the front, side, and top views with charcoal on canvas and in places I will overlap the “views” so I use oil-stick to highlight and separate the lines and before you know it I’m throwing in acrylic washes to activate the space the lines are in or on – all to get the drawing to act like a painting.
The most recent paintings come from drawing celestial orbs on 10ft.-square canvases. I was thinking more of a dome or a cap of an orb or asteroid-like thing as a sculpture relief hanging on the wall, bulging into the room, like it’s a sphere stuck between the inside and the outside.
The paintings I made for these “domes” are renditions of abstract topographical other-worldly landscapes. They are map-like with loose mark-making that flow from crater regions to valleys to sea beds, etc.
I sometimes collage photos of the clay surfaces that I have made to add a dimension of shadow and light as if this place is star lit with a potential of life. These paintings are sort of unfinished and in process, with notations and glyphs like a page in a giant book or traveler's journal, and they guide me in the making of the sculpture.
I like that Matisse made a sculpture, then made a painting to put it into. So this can go both ways. Ha!
APRIL GORNIK: You’re one of those “true” artists whose heads are always kind of in the clouds, but you’re actually more in outer space. Lately you’ve been inventing lunar bodies and surfaces, which I love. How did that work evolve?
BRYAN HUNT: I’d say that after sculpting earth features and forms like lakes, waterfalls, flumes, rivers, craters, and canyons the next step would have to be extraterrestrial landscapes where things are different. After all, there are a gazillion variations of the orb and millions of earths in different stages of time. The images and data that's coming back from our space probes is astonishing and inspiring, very abstract, and yet familiar.
|Sea of Nectar|
The pure science of space exploration is what defines us humans in the here and now. We find words to describe it, and we find ways to bring it into our culture.
APRIL GORNIK: Your work in ceramic is some of the most magical stuff I know: Moons turn into little three-legged creatures, and there’s an absolutely wonderful animation about them. Are you an anime/animation fan? Is this something you think about, or did it just evolve?
BRYAN HUNT: The ceramic moons are like souvenirs from a long trip “abroad”, similar to the maps and globes brought back by early explorers. Some I put legs on to give them a little humanity and the lightness of being. It’s important (helpful) to be playful and step out of the science, and that frees up the form and the mark-making. After all, there are no rules in art.
|Plutonian Dwarf - 2015|
APRIL GORNIK: You’re always had (wonderful) dogs since I’ve known you. Sculpture is like leaving the biggest paw print you can when you make art. Do you think of your hands or your whole arms making your big sculptures? How does your body figure in (pun intended)?
BRYAN HUNT: I was told a story about de Kooning that, when making his clam-digger sculptures in clay, he wore clam-shuckers’ gloves over his hands, even another glove over the other to enlarge his gestures and marks! Those sculptures are so out there, so full of life, so oddly perfect. They are as if you are looking at a figure as it is reflected in the water that it is standing in. This was a revelation to me about inventing ways to make things.
And talk about paw prints, yes, I’m hands-on too.
APRIL GORNIK: You’ve been all over the world, and now you live out here on the East End of Long Island. Has living here affected your work?
BRYAN HUNT: How could it not! The East End has so much to offer. Artists have been coming out this way since the days of Thomas Moran and Fairfield Porter, de Kooning etc. It is a way to be near the activities of NYC but living in extraordinary nature by the sea with estuaries and farm fields. There’s something wonderful about converting a barn into a studio. I lived in the city in the 80’s and 90’s and it couldn’t have been a better time, but now I prefer the seasonal cycles and working with the big doors wide open.
April Gornik is best known for her landscape paintings. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art and many significant private collections. She has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Guild Hall Academy of the Arts and the Award of Excellence for Artistic Contributions to the Fight Against AIDS from amfAR.