. this art, this artist
H.M. "Filling In For Cerberus" (2016) [Click images for refined view]
about hunter madsen
I am a photographer, essayist, and sometime cartoonist who hails from a family of writers and artists working in diverse media, in a mostly-American line tracing back to Samuel F.B. Morse, the 19th-century painter and inventor. (Morse, as it happens, brought the daguerreotype from Europe, and mentored Mathew Brady).
With our modern world awash in conventional prettiness and image glut, it seems to me that the pre-eminent challenge with art these days is not how to make it beautiful - which is relatively easy - but how to make it unexpectedly beautiful, and therefore moving - which is anything but. "Unexpected beauty unsettles," as Peter Schjeldahl once remarked, and things that unsettle break though.
This vast gallery collection is my one-man Lewis & Clark expedition in pursuit of fresh beauty tracked by alternate coordinates. (My new compass settings are described in The Problem of Beauty.)
To spot the unexpected in a picked-over age takes an omniverous eye and a passion for the hunt across a sprawling terrain of unlikely contexts, unpromising locations, and provisional aesthetics.
The quest for original beauty has taken me, in passing, to some dark and heartbreaking places. Much of the work here brings out 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 seem a crazy quilt, the assembly of half a dozen personas.
In my practice, documentary literalism is usually the first thing to go. Few of my images look the way they were originally shot because, through edited transformations, they tend to become something more, adding resonance. (An old farm implement portrays a world tilting off axis, ancient hunting trophies are ghosts of regret, lumber stacks are tetris canyons of reordered tree flesh...) What emerges is often alien to the source material and bonded freely to larger conversations about life and death.
This is art that aims to connect unexpected beauty with ideas. The work explores how we relate to life's journey, to our gods, to chaos in the natural world, and to our misfitted desires. To undertake this union of imagery and ideas, 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.
In putting together these pairings, I draw from corners of my braggable but plainly unfocused past. Following a youth pointed toward the arts (for a time I considered making a career as a classical composer), I undertook training as a social scientist, earning degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard University. While completing my Ph.D., I taught liberal philosophy and world politics to Harvard undergraduates for several years, 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 rose to become 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.
I subsequently took up roles at Wired, Yahoo, and some 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 concerns how all change, even for the better, entails loss, and how beauty remains to be found in our modern-day ruins: used-up and cast-off objects from displaced technologies.
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, the book remains a bugaboo for the religious Right, and its underlying issues continue to surface, here and there, in my visual art.
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 art images, which look 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 my time is split between fine art, civic activism, and submitting cartoons for relentless rejection by The New Yorker.
NEXT | the problem of beauty
H.M. "Tree Flesh, Reorganized - Monument to Andy Goldsworthy" (2022)
Unless otherwise indicated, all text and images at www.HunterMadsen.com are copyrighted by Hunter Madsen (2022). All rights reserved.