Todd Hunter

“When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world and above all, your own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving one by one and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.”

John Cage said this in 1965, and for me it is a very accurate description of my studio practice and my process of painting. Specifically, it’s the balancing act between the known and the unknown, the conscious and the subconscious, and most importantly, when to be in control and conversely when to be reckless and abandon the rational you, in the hope of making or seeing something you haven’t before. It’s a thing that can exist on its own, beyond me, born through invention, an image that can only be arrived at by painting towards it, so it has its own past and a feeling that the image has lived.

Strictly speaking, I’m neither a figurative nor an abstract painter and I find the space between figurative and non-figurative art an exhilarating place to work. I’m drawn to images that possess a mystery that hides things, being out of focus and relying more on evocation than a simple recognition.

The figure and the landscape are both elements present in my work, evidenced or acknowledged through colour and form, but most importantly through a dynamic or force. By this, I mean dealing with movement and magnetism, the pulls between one form on another and what the spaces between and around this pull look like. It’s the abstraction of forces and the residue or traces of these forms that survive the many erasures that become the elements of the painting. The problem I see, for me, is not the object in the painting but the painting as object.

I draw a lot with the paint, either with a brush, or direct from the tube. Drawing is an important element in my overall process. Often the forms I begin with are derived from these, which at the moment, working and living in Northern NSW, are concerned with the landscape around me. Having studied life drawing with David Paulson in Brisbane for 12 years, I can also call on my knowledge of the figure and its form and dynamic at any time. I also use my young daughters’ drawings as stimulus and I love their inherent simpleness and innocence and lack of any convention. They’re a good reminder about avoiding technique.

The most important element I have taken from drawing is that of erasure. It is to a large extent the crux of my process. Once I reach a certain point in the painting, it actually becomes more about taking things out – erasing – than putting things in. Remembering though, and I am learning this, to take things out is to actually put things in. It’s an instinctual exercise of exposing and revealing and the accompanying high of discovery of finding the hidden. It’s about finishing and leaving the image unsettled, caught in its moment like it has won its freedom, and pregnant with possibility for the next picture. Often, I feel, to over-finish or explain a painting is to rob it of its power and potential.

My studio is never silent, everything is accompanied by music. It intimately influences my work. Almost all my titles are derived from lyrics or song titles that have influenced that particular work and the psychological overtones the music has imbued on the work. It’s never arbitrary. At some stage during the painting process, early or late, a lyric or song will attach itself through its relevance to me and my life, or through the process of making the image it becomes relevant. It sets the rhythm by which the thing is made and it changes with each painting.

It’s autobiographical, reflecting in the image, becoming my mix tape, the soundtrack to my life. This is where the contradiction lies, in as much as the image needs to exist independently and reflect its own history or personality for me, but there must still be a recognition of self in the picture made from my sensations. When I leave the studio, I have left there a person or something totemic, an organic thing that can lead its own life, that doesn’t need me anymore, or my thoughts about it. A painting is a painting.

Sydney Contemporary
10-13 September, 2015

Scott Livesey Galleries

Image courtesy the artist and Scott Livesey Galleries

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