. this art, this artist

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Filling in for Cerberus   (2016) 



about hunter madsen



I'm a photographer, writer, and sometime cartoonist whose images and paired texts explore new contexts for beauty in our difficult, nearly catastrophic times.  


My art background has been mainly a matter of home-schooling: I hail from a family of artists working across diverse media, in a mostly American line tracing back to Samuel F. B. Morse, the 19th-century painter and inventor. (As it happens, Morse brought the daguerreotype from Europe, and mentored Mathew Brady). 


This is the first public exposure of my work, completed over the past decade, which makes you among the first to look at it, so fingers crossed.


Postcards from a Borough of My Mind   



beauty, unexpectedly.  With so many images in circulation, and with so much of the beauty in them operating predictably along well-worn lines, a challenge for art photography today is to somehow reawaken our photo-accustomed eyes with pictures that are meaningfully beautiful in strikingly unexpected ways. 


This expansive portfolio site is my expedition in pursuit of the sublime, tracked by alternate coordinates.  (My compass settings are described in The Problem of Beauty.)



Dein Kampf    (2015)



rough terrain.  To spot the unexpected in a picked-over age takes an omniverous eye and a determined hunt across a horizon of unlikely contexts, unpromising locations, and provisional aesthetics.


The journey has taken me, in passing, to some dark and heartbreaking places.  Much of the imagery here evokes the tension we feel when experiencing beauty alongside suffering, which goes, I think, to the heart of the human condition.  Open to getting there by whatever means, my output can resemble a village crazy-quilt, the stitchwork of different hands.


Full Circle 



a different story.  While I admire and collect straight-ahead photography by others, in my own practice descriptive literalism is usually the first thing to go. Few of my images look the way they were originally shot. Most are transformed to render meanings less self-evident, more ulterior; and the objects within frame tend to look off-stage toward larger realities that contain, also, the viewer. 


.  An old farm implement suggests our world tilting off axis.


.  A hunting trophy, bleached white with age, looks back in regret.


.  A grocer's tank - where two doomed lobsters contest the flesh of a third, already dead - depicts our brutal deformation of the natural world, and captures in microcosm the cage-match cruelty of our neoliberal age.


.  A winter-wrapped shrub cloaks a deity, fully awakened but shrewdly hiding Herself as the great age of calamity unfolds.


In the images here, what emerges is often alien to the source material and bonded freely to larger conversations about life and death.



Dog Eat Dog  (2021)



beauty as meaning.  Schiller noted long ago that "beauty conducts us into the world of ideas without however taking us from the world of sense." The art here aims not only to connect unexpected beauty with ideas, but also to prompt the viewer to pause and parse meaning before moving on. 


The work explores how we relate to life's journey, to our gods, to cataclysm in the natural world, and to the misfitted desires that divert and propel our days.


To undertake this union, my photo-essays inflect viewers' interpretation of what they're seeing through accompanying titles and texts, which matter to these pieces on a par with the pictures.  



Ten-Point Trophy of My Youth   (2016)


a winding road to art.  In putting together these pairings, I draw from scattered corners of my braggable but unfocused past.  


Following a youth pointed toward the arts (for a time I considered making a career as a composer), I trained as a social scientist, initially at Dartmouth College and then, for my doctorate, at Harvard University.  For several years I taught liberal philosophy and world politics to Harvard undergrads, then pivoted to pursue a more creative line of work in the advertising industry, first in Manhattan and later in San Francisco.


With the advent of the internet, which riveted me, I served as a senior partner at agency giant J. Walter Thompson, was invited to head up JWT’s first worldwide center for excellence in digital media (a position that I designed but ultimately declined), and was awarded the first international Atticus Prize, from global media leviathan WPP, for an essay series on the coming evolution of marketing.



The Gospel According to Four Evangelists   


I subsequently took up roles at Wired, Yahoo, and other innovative startups in Silicon Valley.  Along the way, I published occasional pieces on American life and culture, and penned a monthly column on emerging Web trends for Britain's Management Today


One theme of my art explores how all change, even for the better, entails loss, and how an unsentimental beauty is to be found in our modern-day ruins: used-up and cast-off objects from displaced technologies. 


living in sin.  Working on the side, I also co-authored a controversial political playbook, After the Ball, which pioneered a public outreach strategy for LGBTQ civil rights in America, back in the Nineties.  Long out of print (and now about as awkwardly un-woke as the Mattachine Society), the book remains a bugaboo for some on the religious Right, and its underlying issues continue to surface, here and there, in my visual art.



Running with the Devil   (2022)



the age of weltschmerz.  Recent creative collaborations with the composer Robert Kyr have included album and video art for his environmental oratorio, A Time for Life, and program art for The Cloud of Unknowing, Songs of the Soul, and In Praise of Music.  


As a lifelong environmental activist and the son of a wildlife sculptor, I have made the fraught relationship between mankind and Nature a central subject of my photography, which looks unsparingly, and with grief, at the enslavement,  disassembly, and razing of the natural world to suit human tastes and ventures.


I am based near Vancouver, British Columbia, where I live with my German-Canadian partner of many years and our rescued Persian greyhound, named Weltschmerz, from Teheran.  These days I split my time between fine art, civic activism, and submitting cartoons for relentless rejection by The New Yorker



NEXT |  the problem of beauty 



Maitreya, Buddha of the Future, Takes Cover   (2023)



Except where indicated, all text and images at this website are (c) 2023 Hunter Madsen, with all rights reserved.  No reproduction or distribution without prior written permission.