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profile: sherrie hunt
by arlene winkler

Although the Object Series by Sherrie Hunt is photographic and I’m familiar with the Small Set genre, what I see for the first time is its relationship to Surrealism with its perfect renderings of the impossible by its skilled practitioners, hinting that genius and madness are integral to the creative process, (a concept that earned them scorn and banishment by the opinion makers of the Third Reich). But at the same time, I see a sunnier quality that hints at the Southern California school of Light and Space of the 70’s, a nostalgic vision of radicalism with a dash of wry humor.

If I sound unusually impressed it’s because I am. On the two occasions I’ve encountered Sherrie’s work prior to this interview, I was on my way to other destinations. On the first occasion I was on my way to see the new show at Blue Spiral, but stopped at the Front Gallery — just in time see Poezie, her joint exhibition with the talented Heidi Zednik, which was coming down the next day. The level of skill and imagination it presented was so unexpected I stayed there the rest of the afternoon. The show was not only full of exceptional individual pieces, but so perfectly integrated and brilliantly installed, the sum of the parts was its own work of art.

On the second occasion, the opening of the Artists Round Table exhibit, I was eager to leave—depressed by both the uneven quality of the work and the inability of this well-meaning group to get its artistic act together. But as I pushed through the crowd towards the door, it happened again; stopped in my tracks by the sight of a sleek surface, an ambiguous image and sophisticated color, and a subconscious take on something polished to perfection. So I am eager to meet her, to find out who in Asheville would go to such lengths to make such a subtle statement.

“Art and the process of creating have always been part of my life,” she begins. “But it was in the mid ‘70s, when my former husband and I left Florida to join the back-to-the-land movement, that I made two major discoveries. We bought a farm in Tennessee and found a dingy old funeral home in a nearby town, which we ultimately turned into a natural food store and restaurant—a really special space where people liked to linger.

It was here I discovered my love for transformation of space and a passion for the photographic process, which led to my first darkroom and a lifetime of experimentation.”

During the same period, her brother Bryan Hunt, now a well known sculptor, had moved to New York where he was invited into the Whitney Museum program. He urged her to share his experience in the world of New York City high art.

“We went to gallery and museum openings, intimate dinner parties with well known artists, as well as dealers and members of museum boards. I went to Spain with Bryan, as a guest of the Spanish government, along with nine other artists and their dealers. And after traveling in Europe alone for several weeks, I came home with the desire to paint.”

But it in the mid 1980s, she moved to Los Angeles with her children, hoping to find a paying career that would use her creativity. Here, Sherrie discovered window display, which, at that time, had risen to the level of an art form. Eager to find work, she trained herself by spying on window dressers as they installed props and worked with mannequins. When a combination of luck and talent got her the Baby Guess stores as her first large account, she was on her way. Creating theme windows using baby and little kid mannequins for four different stores kept her constantly on the move. But it was a challenge she was more than up fo. Over the next five years the Baby Guess account grew to 14 stores on both coasts.

The windows of Maxfield, a prestigious fashion emporium that catered to the celebrity set, were a very different story. Here she created edgy installations that drew on art history and current events—continually pushing herself to achieve the conceptually interesting windows the clientele had come to expect.

“It was an amazing opportunity. I learned about space, the use of color, how to build sets and paint back drops, and I got to work with an endless variety of materials to play out my scenarios.” She smiles as she turns to a photograph of baby girl mannequins dressed like tiny carpenters. “And by reversing their gender roles, I learned to take risks in the public arena.”

I find the absurdity of the babies delightful, but it prompts the question of how gender has affected her career.

“I’ve always had the support of my family for my creative endeavors, but I certainly can’t say the same about my art professors. I remember showing one of them a piece I was working on that I was really excited about. His only response was, “I’m not going to waste my time on you—you’ll eventually get married.” As if the men in my class weren’t getting married, too? Unfortunately I didn’t have the confidence at that time to discount his remarks as ignorant.”

In LA, she gained the confidence that comes with success. But although her window designs earned great respect, it wasn’t reflected in her bank account. She moved on to set design, working for photographers on major ad campaigns.

“This was when I discovered the amazing world of small things through the camera lens. It led to a period of exploring personal and cultural issues by using a series of small figures from the ‘70s, called “Campus Cuties.”

The title of the series, “Objects”, was derived from the images, which were objects, and from the way the female figures were conceptually objectified. Images from this body of work were included in gallery group shows by curators from most of the leading museums. In the words of Peter Frank, a critic and publisher of art publications, “…Hunt is unafraid to freight her images with formidable psychological loads…where other figurine photographers might share a joke with the viewer at the expense of society, Hunt shares moments of trust and revelation.”

Which brings us back to the work I admired in the Artists Roundtable show and the question of what Asheville holds for this nationally acclaimed artist. The one thing I know for sure is that there is a growing demand here for her skills as a commercial photographer. To find out more, you’ll find her listed on the Web in three different places: sherriehunt.com Photographer, veer.com/products/artistgallery and ashevillearts.com/visarts/anewfrontgallery/april-2005-exhibition. Her own website also has links to those of her talented family, Bryan Hunt and John Hudson (son) as well as her daughter Jennifer’s website, WNCKids.com

“My work has moved into a more peaceful place here,” she explains. “Nature feeds my spirit and is my inspiration. I want to share my awe of the beauty and spirit in nature, and perhaps bring more respect and awareness to the fragility of our planet.”

Sherrie Hunt is represented by art consultants in Atlanta, GA, Los Angeles, CA, Napa CA, Phoenix AZ and Beacon NY. Her work has been curated into gallery groupshows by curators from MOMA, NYC, Los Angeles County Museum, CA, Guggenheim Museum, NY, MOCA, Los Angeles, CA, Whitney Museum of Art, NY, as well as showing in group shows at the Long Beach Museum of Art, CA, Alexandra Museum of Art, Louisiana plus other gallery shows.

 

Arlene Winkler is a freelance financial writer, who is passionate about art. A former ad agency president and enthusiastic participant of life on the New York fast track, she moved to Asheville in 2002 with her sculptor husband, Robert Winkler. A mother of three, a grandmother of four, and the author of three screenplays, she is dealing with her culture shock by writing for WNC Woman.


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