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Exploring The Microscopic + The Galactic With Brendan Huntley

Studio Visit

Prominent artist Brendan Huntley has been honing in on the finer details – the stitches of an old quilt, moss on a rock, a repetitive production line of letterbox numbers in a factory…

Created from Frankston to San Francisco, his new body of work is an ambitious offering, underpinned by a heightened reverence for the natural world. Sky Light Mind opens at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne this Saturday.

8th November, 2018

Brendan Huntley’s latest exhibition opens at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne Saturday, November 10th. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Ahead of Brendan’s show, we visited his sculpture studio (aka him mum’s shed) in Frankston. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

This body of work has ‘opened up the gates to wilder colours and led me to build these larger paintings and sculptures,’ tells the artist. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Brendan pictured with his works. Left: sculpture Untitled (cross stitch/deep breath). Right, front to back: Untitled (self-centre, middle-ground)Untitled (primordial soup), and Untitled (everything under the sun). Left painting (Untitled (vortex echo chamber), and right painting Untitled (cortex whistle hole). Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Detail of sculpture Untitled (self-centre, middle-ground)Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Brendan works on a bisque-fired sculpted form. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

All of the sculptures are made with combinations of glaze, slip, enamel, bog, terracotta, raku, stoneware, white raku, formply, steel, and wheels. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Untitled (irregular nebular) 2017–2018, Oil-on-linen. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘I’m interested in something more abstract, outside of the confines of the traditional human structure. More instrumental than a cappella,’ tells Brendan. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

This body of work really came together during the artist’s time in California, where ‘the brilliant natural light makes every colour pop’. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Brendan invested in an epic new kiln to create the larger-scale sculptures for this show. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

When he’s not creating, Brendan likes to ‘break the pattern of life and go for a walk’, especially at Wilsons Promontory, as well as listen/dance to music in the studio (Laura Jean’s new record is a current favourite). Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The artist has enlisted several industrial materials to achieve new results. He got ‘pretty deep with some crushed glaze experiments’ and in incorporating dollie bases. ‘I like the way the sculptures can be moved around a space until they fall into place, like a cluster of islands or a solar system’. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Elle Murrell
Thursday 8th November 2018

‘These works are what you might see at the beginning of optical recognition – when the colours and forms are coming into focus. The subject could appear through a microscope or a telescope.’ – Brendan Huntley.

‘I’ve been focusing on getting comfortable with a pebble in my shoe, or a fly buzzing around my head. I’ve been thinking about the universe as a minestrone soup of brilliant energy,’ reflects Brendan Huntley, who is about to exhibit his first hometown solo show since 2015.

The last time I crossed paths with the Melbournian was nearly 10 years ago. His band, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, had just taken out The Australian Music Prize and he was belting out choruses amid energetic contortions on stage at The Espy. Yet alongside his cult-status musical endeavours, Brendan has carved out a successful art career, with solo exhibitions across Australia as well as inclusions in premier international events such as Hong Kong Art Fair, Art Basel Hong Kong, and Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

‘For me, creativity comes out in many ways, whether it’s painting, drawing, sculpting, lyrics or performing. Similar to working from the two studios, the ideas feed one another. Wherever I am creatively, I just apply my energy to the project at hand,’ the 36-year-old artist tells. ‘If one of those outlets runs a little dry, another will be flowing, even if it’s just a little stream. It keeps me sane.’

Sky Light Mind combines seven large sculptures with eight paintings-on-canvas and 24 smaller works on archival paper. Each of these media were created in different spaces: his mum’s shed in Frankston (which we visited), a painting studio in Preston, and during a residency in San Francisco, respectively.

It all began in 2016, upon returning from a hike in New Zealand. ‘I wanted to be reminded of the exhilaration that I get when looking at mountains or swimming in a stream,’ Brendan recalls. Then, last year, after being awarded an Australia Council Mentorship grant he travelled to San Francisco for what became an informal residency with Barry McGee. ‘Barry has a magical ability to bring out the wizardry in others,’ reflects the artist. ‘He also encouraged me to explore his paint supply, and this, plus the wildness of colour and light on the West Coast, opened me up to a fresh new vibrant colour palette.’

Brendan’s partner Ellen, an avid hiker with an adventurous spirit, has been another crucial influence. As have other family and friends, especially his highly creative and hard working mum, who also kindly gave up her shed! Brendan upgraded the existing kiln his dad had built with a huge trolley version that could handle his increasingly large-scale forms.

The largest sculptures he has produced thus far, Brendan admits these are perhaps also his most abstract and surreal. ‘I feel it’s looking way further out (into space dust or a nebular) or much deeper in (at DNA, atoms and cells), as well as all that’s in-between,’ he describes. ‘It’s only after the work is made that I really begin discovering what it all means and how it’s evolved.’

Next, Brendan will turn his focus to international art shows and the release of a book with Knowledge Editions.Wonders Never Crease comprises a selection of the works-on-paper made in San Francisco and is due out next month. But first, he’s opening the show on Saturday night. ‘Tolarno Gallery has deep black floors, like outer space. The walls are white, like light. Together it will be a universal dance floor for the artwork.’

‘Sky Light Mind’ by Brendan Huntley
November 10th – December 15th
Tolarno Galleries
Level 4/104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC

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The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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