Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Creative Space: Richard Hunt's Studio

Guest Blogger:
Joyce Owens
Artist, Arts activist, Painting instructor, and Curator of the galleries at Chicago State University

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.

Artist Joyce Owens has a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Yale University, a BFA from Howard University. She is an arts activist, and teaches painting and drawing and is the curator of the galleries at Chicago State University.


  1. Wow, this is a guy I'd like to meet some day.

    I took a welding class a few years ago to learn it as an industrial process when I was a practicing engineer. I fell in love with it just as much as an artistic process.

    I hope to get back into it and learn to truly apply it artistically one day.

    Great article. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the inside images of his studio along with the article. Great great artist!

  3. @Martin: follow your dream! Thanks for the kind words. @ ArtShows, it was my pleasure. This guy works hard every day starting by 7am on most days...he is certainly a role model for me.

  4. I checked out this guys webpage (www.artistrichardhunt.com). Do you realize his been exhibiting art since 1956? There's also video of him working in his studio.

    I'm struck by your comments on Hunt's ability to set his ideas into motion . To actually create. I'm wondering what role space place in aiding the process of turning idea into actuality. Is it more than just the tools available to you? Is there something in the physical structure of a space that lends to productive creativity?

  5. @CCamille: Yes, Hunt was a prodigy while a student at the Art Institute.

    The space Richard has is central to his productivity. His works-in-progress are available and he can work on multiple projects, rather than working on one-at-a-time. He can also establish a continuity from one piece to the next, so his body of work work is not disjointed. He can be inspired by his own sculptures that remain in his studio.

    But artists figure out a way to get done what they need to... in large or small spaces. The space restrictions may dictate what one does and that, too, is interesting.

  6. Descriptions of the space - Wonderful! I feel like I was right there with you.

    One thing I'm curious about is what your thoughts were about the space. How does it apply to your practice? How could this be applicable to others w/o easy access to such spacious studios - like myself? Besides fame and being a prodigy, what type of discipline and/or drive were apparent by mr. Hunt? You lightly tap into that towards the end though I realize your focus was on Hunt himself. Still would be great to hear your answers.

  7. Alex: Great questions. They merit another post, but, in lieu of that I can tell you I have never had a huge space. And it is limiting. It's hard to make large scale works, for example, so I work in series. Hunt is producing public art, naturally it needs to be large in most cases. And he fabricates some of the work in studio. You probably know that some sculptors create maquettes and send them to be fabricated elsewhere. )

    What you can do is apply for residencies. I went to Ragdale this summer and worked in the largest space I ever experienced. I wrote about that on my own blog, Joyce Owens: Artist on Art and for Art Talk Chicago on Chicago Now...I'll come back with the link.

    Hunt is in the studio by 7am every day. He is hands on, and does not have artists working from sketches only, etc. He has done drawings, prints, paintings and of course, sculptures. He seems to know everyone. He goes to receptions of artists he knows who are not famous like him! And all I said in the post! Any more questions? they are certainly welcome.

  8. Alex: here is a link to my blog.


    You may need to scroll down to the Ragdale post. There are lots of comments on the Art Talk version so click on that link if you want to read them.

  9. Joyce, I love your philosophy that artists work to make as much art as we can for as long as we can, and that's our job, our lives. Would love to hang out with Hunt (and you) at the Salt and Pepper Diner.

  10. Thanks for writing this Joyce. I think I first encountered Richard's work through the commision he completed for the Evanston Public Library. I was glad to see some pictures of his studio. I've passed by his building before and have wondered what it looked like on the inside.

  11. Thanks Peg: we are geographically incompatible to go for breakfast, but when you are in town, let's do it!

    Oscar: Glad to give you a peek into the magical studio of Richard Hunt! Let me assure you that the real things tops my puny photos!

  12. i really enjoy this article joyce! thanks for writing it!