Continuing a series of posts on work that I’m very excited to include in the group show Together With that I’m curating for mid-2017, today I’m thrilled to share the work of Minnesota artist C. Anthony Huber. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat at length with him earlier this year when he made the trip over to Wisconsin to see a pop-up show I had coordinated in Green Bay, and it’s been wonderful to follow his recent work and exhibitions.
One reason I’m so drawn to C. Anthony Huber’s work is it’s innate heft. Not only in its physical weight, but the materials he chooses: concrete, asphalt, flame. It’s heavy-duty stuff. And yet the finished compositions maintain a delicateness that can only come from a real understanding of his chosen media. Materials we associate with crude, large work like roadways and building foundations, welding or other manufacturing, are approached by Huber with obvious care. Natural processes provide much of the intricate detail, like the crackled and charred, scored and spotted surfaces. The addition of paint presents something like a reminder of the process: bright orange and deep black, textured white and warm grey… hinting to the viewer what the artist experienced or applied to get to the finished piece we see.
I asked the artist a bit about his work, and his practice, examining his deeply-rooted desire to create and his drive to work with materials that often proved inconvenient in practical ways:
What first inspired/pushed you to become an artist? How did you start, and has your work changed since then?
Art is primal. To me, it is a gut reaction to what I see. I look for that reaction in the the work of others and in my own work. In my experience, it is hard to find and difficult to create. That desire . . . that addiction to the gut reaction is what motivated me to start creating art.
All of my work is an extension of that singular desire.
You use some heavy-duty materials in your work such as concrete and asphalt. What is your process like?
The British artist Gary Hume explained that the only cathartic aspect of painting occurs when he solves a problem within the process. It is the same for me. I often think of my work as a complex math problem. There is a right answer. The issue for me is working backward to find the formula that solves the problem. I have for years worked with concrete and oil paint, asphalt and acrylic and, now, fire, fumage and resin. I place these media into forced communication on the canvas. My search for mastery of the media has created a foundation upon which I can continue the dialogue and push the conversation further.
My process involves damage and repair, building up and wearing down. This is the same process that exists in our urban environment. I am fascinated with the beauty and tension caught between that process. Even though my work may look haphazard, I create rules within the process that help guide the work along. This allows me to find the overall balance within the work and challenge the viewer to match what they see to what they know. I want to confront the viewer with materials they see and depend on everyday and challenge their view of what is expected of those materials.
How much time do you spend in the studio? And what is your studio like?
I can say that when I am out of the studio, I spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to visualize my work. For me, that time is essential to success in the studio. Perhaps the most useful non-studio time occurs when I am cycling or engaging in some activity that allows a sort of meditative state to occur. Often this is the time when answers to process problems or ideas for a future works are found.
My current studio was once a very nice basement bedroom until I tore out the carpet to expose the cement floor and ripped out the ceiling tiles to give a bit more height. I need a space where I can create and destroy and not worry about the floor or walls.
What do you find is one of the most challenging aspects of being an artist?
The most challenging part about being an artist is being an artist. All artistic decisions are my own. While there is great freedom in that reality, it is fraught with self-doubt and the weight of creating works that are true, impactful and reflective of self.
What would you consider to be your greatest triumph or success so far?
I suspect that I may never again feel quite the way I did in the moment I first witnessed my own work professionally exhibited in a packed gallery.
Is there anything you wish you would have known when you were getting your start?
First, let’s just say, I did not get back my deposit from the small apartment where I started painting several years ago. My process is messy, the kitchen floor small and the landlord unforgiving. Besides that, and this is a common answer, but I am always surprised at how much time I spend applying for exhibitions, preparing grant proposals, applying for magazines, preparing for exhibitions and generally engaging in the business side of being an artist. The effort is always worth the time, even with all the “thank you for your interest” replies. Even so, I always seem to learn something about myself and my work in the process.
Who or what are your influences? Have you had any mentors?
When I taught world history for a short time in Hawaii a long time ago, I used a great deal of art history as a way to help students understand the past: the people are dead and gone, yes, but the art of their time lives on. In reverse, I find that my art is greatly influenced by history, even in small ways. For example, my interest in applying fire to my current work was sparked by the historic term: Burned-Over District. The term was coined by Charles Grandison Finney in 1876 to describe the earlier religious and reform movements that engulfed western and central New York state. I am also greatly moved by the unintentional mark making of the cave dwellers at Lascaux who scraped their torches against the walls so as to increase the flames as they made their way deep into the recesses to create their paintings and by the insightful writings of Jorge Luis Borges in Borges and I, which explores the flame of the artistic other.
When I travel, I often try to visit the homes of historic figures. This intimate view of their life – where they ate breakfast, slept, read or wrote – makes them real and gives some insight to their humanness. I often ask other artists if I can visit their studios and view their work and process. As a self-taught artist, I find this is an important part of my own education. After several studio visits with Judy Onofrio, an internationally recognized artist who creates sculptures made of bones, I offered to help paint bones for an upcoming installation and help install a major exhibition of her work at the Rochester Art Center. Watching Judy problem solve and create very large sculptures somehow removed the intimidation factor of scaling up my own work. Seeing is believing.
You’ve expressed that it’s for you to engage beyond the studio as an investment in a vibrant arts community. What are some examples of this, and why do you believe that this is important as an independent artist?
Exploration is the key to my art. But in a broader sense, I need to explore avenues that allow others to interact with my work. I believe that when we engage art, a kind of cycle is enacted. It’s an investment that works both for the artist and the viewer. There is a challenge for those in cities with limited access to a vibrant arts community or for those who create outside of the traditional realm. For a long time I curated the art exhibition at Cafe Steam gallery (one of only a few places to show art in the city). Now, another artist and I are starting an informal artist group to meet regularly to discuss our work and commune. This effort centers around our desire to engage beyond the studio.
Find more images of Huber’s work as well as further information at huberstudio.com.
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