A Creative Space: Richard Hunt’s Studio by Joyce Owens

September 9th, 2010

I, for a long time, have envied sculptors…they change space by shoving their stuff into it, affecting everything around it, sometimes for miles around!

Recently, I spent a morning with Richard Hunt, the internationally recognized sculptor with more public works than any other living artist. It’s a given that he just blows me away. His charming and unassuming personality and his handsome good looks are enough, but add to that his enormous creative abilities and long-tested productivity and you have a contemporary artist who is pretty much unmatched!

If envy, like Dante’s Inferno, has circles, visiting Hunt’s studio takes me deep into a covetous crater. His studio is jammed with tiny maquettes, informally arranged like a collection of rare crystal, intermixed with huge electric tools and small gadgets used to form and transform the metals, Hunt’s preferred medium. Some items I see are old hand tools that chew into and cut metal, and lots of cords attached to the tools trail the floor. There are modern laser cutters and various metal fasteners and clamps that I don’t have names for, plus curly metal shavings (that I wanted so badly to graph onto some of my own art!) left behind when the huge sheets of steel and aluminum are cut. The hunks of scrap metal and new metal create piles of inventory taller than my 5’10” frame and probably taller than my 3-story house. Various wires and wood pieces, books, magazines, newspapers, catalogs and clothes flow like a river and its tributaries throughout this space.

Hunt seems attracted to simple artifacts, the opposite of his own more texturally complex and curvy works, by American and African artists and spotted here and there in the studio and in his adjacent office. I see bolts to screw on the bases he is fabricating to stand his work on and metal rods, nails and whatnot. The cornucopia of sculpture-making delights extends from the floor to the ceiling with tiny aisles for walking and niches for working. I don’t know how many works-in-progress are in this colossal former Chicago Transit Authority terminal. Many larger scale works shine beautifully in the muted light. They look complete and ready to go to a gallery, home, museum or corporation. I’d certainly welcome them into my home. Walking through Richard Hunt’s studio is like walking through a diamond shop with all the jewels out for anyone to touch!

I arrived at his Lill Street studio at 7:15 am this day to chat and have breakfast with Richard at his neighborhood hangout the Salt and Pepper Diner. It’s within eyesight of his studio, a place where he doesn’t really need a menu and where he doesn’t really need to state his order. The waitress already knows, but checks to make sure he hasn’t changed his mind. When we returned to the studio, passing by his sculpture in Jonquil Park that was being retrofitted for wheelchair accessibility, I realized that Richard’s space exemplifies the aspirations of many artists: We really want to get every idea we think we have into a concrete, ready-to-be-shown, form. Many of us have terrific ideas all the time, but many of those gems remain in our heads only. Some of us grasp our creative concepts and run with them to produce something, but maybe not scores of somethings. Has Hunt been able to actually remember the idea he had in the shower, or on a walk in the park or at dinner in a fancy restaurant, long enough to turn it into art? It seems to me he must. When I argued for the theme Artists at Work for Chicago Artists Month 2002 it was because I believe in what Richard Hunt lives, and I believe many other artists do, too: work. You work to make as much art as you can, for as many days as you can, for as many years as you can. Your natural creativity and the creativity you inevitably develop when you practice will show. Right now, I think the hardest job is mine, attempting to write about Richard Hunt’s glittering, magical space, holding treasures that easily compete with a gold mine, so that you can envision it.

Beauty aside, this is one studio that screams prolific. Richard Hunt states plainly, for anyone who looks, that he is the artist at work.

-Joyce Owens

Joyce Owens is a visual artist, curator, university professor, and arts advocate who has a lot on her mind. She doesn’t care if you don’t remember that she has a BFA from Howard or a MFA from Yale. She just wants you to realize that she has a lot to say and is willing to say it.

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