Brendan Huntley emerges from a spring-green coastal backyard, dressed in an orange puffer jacket. The garden goes down towards a large, tidy shed at the back where the artist has set up an enviable studio.
In one room there is an industrial gas-fired kiln, complete with a set of tracks for a trolley. Installing the kiln was an involved process; Huntley explains, “we had to take the whole side of this shed off, this whole wall and my fence here, and use my neighbour’s driveway.” An industrial forklift “with crazy tyres” got the behemoth over the lawn into the shed. Having the opportunity to not be limited by space has seen his sculptures grow. “As I started building some of these forms, it just kind of called for more. And it carried on, and all of a sudden, I was looking at things larger than I’ve ever made.”
The middle room of the well-lit studio is finished in white plasterboard, giving off a whiff of a gallery testing space. Huntley’s ceramic sculptures – en route to Tolarno Galleries for an exhibition – are positioned in a casual totemic circle while a selection of large-scale paintings take up the walls. In the past Huntley’s works tended to be marked by a preoccupation with the ocular realm, as well as human faces and psychedelia. His recent paintings are not only depictions of abstracted eyes but engage with the act of looking, of observance and perception.
Huntley is non-prescriptive about whether the heavily worked glazed and textured surfaces of his ceramic forms are to be viewed through a macro or micro lens.
“I feel like for a long time I was looking in, and now I am looking out, or the other way around. I haven’t worked that out yet. But I do feel like this is that experience we feel inside us when we are experiencing something quite overwhelming. And that could be looking out over some fantastic landscape that we’ve just walked to the top of, and it’s that elation when you’ve got to the top.”
Huntley has an openness and inner intensity that the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke prescribed, and which shimmers in the 1977 selection of poetry, Possibility of Being. The achievement of ‘being’ in these odes is to make all of our possibilities manifest. Huntley’s practice extends outwards, branching off into several streams. Painter, ceramic artist – Huntley is also the singer and lyricist of long-running Australian punk band, Eddy Current Suppression Ring. It is not surprising that art school wasn’t a good fit for him. Growing up with artistic parents, he says he was encouraged to create in whatever material, without analysing first. “I felt like in the institution it was, analyse then create. And that’s how I saw it.”
Huntley speaks of his large forms invoking hyper-landscapes, digging out the tactile detail that one can appreciate when directing focus on surface material, whether it be planetary or molecular. It’s all matter. His works reverberate with colour and an awe, both of the internal and external world.
Though Huntley desires to be unbounded by size constraints, it’s often the small, well-formed features in the manmade and natural world that have informed the way he approaches his own making. “It might be like just the little wheel to a chair or something. But there is something so beautiful about that sharp, moulded object and then you’ll get like a gum nut, that’s from a tree. And that too, could almost be made in a mould.”
The last several years have been marked by wanderlust for the artist. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” he says, “I wanted to explore that feeling of being super uncomfortable.” Among his travels to Europe and the US, Huntley spent the most time in California, where a mentorship turned into a residency at the studio of painter and revered graffiti artist Barry McGee. Huntley considers the street artist-turned-Venice Biennale alumnus, “a guide in the way he does things.”
Coming from a street culture movement McGee has since enjoyed critical recognition and market success. Similarly, though Huntley maintains a make now-analyse later approach to his practice, he has amassed some impressive notches on his CV, including the Adelaide Biennial in 2014, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual young artist showcase, Primavera in 2013, and an impressive outing at Art Basel in Hong Kong.
The most marked development post-California is his embrace of colour. Huntley speaks of “the energy in San Francisco and in California in general, there are so many wild colours and folk.” That energy has very much imbued Sky Light Mind which is his first solo exhibition in Australia for some years. In a turn of events, Huntley found himself grow accustomed to being out of his comfort zone abroad and craved home. His immediate plans are to stay put in his home base. “That’s the plan after this, continue, just continue.”