. this art, this artist

H.M. "Filling In For Cerberus" (2016) 


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, strangely enough, 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 Scheldahl once said, 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.)

H.M. "Welcome to the Memory Centre, Where You've Been"  (2014)


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.  My quest for original beauty has taken me, in passing, to some dark and heartbreaking places.  Open to getting there by any means, I should forewarn that my output can seem like the work of 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 allegorical resonance.  (Hunting trophies invoke ancient ghosts, 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 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.

H.M.  "Splendid Ten-Point Buck"  (2016)

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 formal training as a social scientist, earning degrees from Dartmouth and Harvard University.  I completed my Ph.D. studies and, for a few years, taught liberal philosophy and world politics to Harvard undergraduates, before pivoting 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-ever international Atticus Prize, from global media leviathan WPP, for an essay series on the evolution of marketing.

H.M. "The Gospel According to Four Evangelists" (2021)

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.


Working on the side, I also co-authored the controversial book, 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.)


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




"There is nothing to express, nothing with which to express,

nothing from which to express, no power to express,

no desire to express, together with the obligation to express."

- Samuel Beckett


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.