Meet Brett Douglas Hunter, our FOUND artist of the month. He's a sculpture-artist, painter, woodcarver, local creatureateur who recently moved to Nashville to make his art. Brett talks with us about his work, his family of artists, leaving Illinois, living the dream, and, most notably, his newest collection of sculptures-turned-furniture, "Cheers."
Read our interview with Brett and check out "Cheers" now showing at Julia Martin Gallery in Nashville until March 31st. Find more of Brett's work at brettdouglashunter.com and on his Instagram @brettdouglashunter.
Photos by Emily Quirk.
Tell us about your show at Julia Martin Gallery. Will you be introducing any new work or characters? What led you to turn sculptures into furniture?
The show is called "Cheers" and will be mostly new work. "Cheers" is how my great-grandmother pronounced "chairs." Many members of my family are skilled craftsmen and builders. When I was young, my mom used to get yard sale/thrift store chairs and paint them up all crazy and sell them. My uncle, Randy Shull, has made countless pieces of amazing furniture and used the chair as a symbol in many pieces of art. My grandparents collected folk art, and have a few figurative chairs made by a folk artist from east Tennessee. I grew up around these things and they are a permanent part of my imagination. I've made a couple of chairs and wanted to dive in and explore the idea.
When you create “Aminals” or other characters, do you give them names or identities? Do they have narratives in your mind that help you bring them to life?
My "Aminals" are purposely unidentifiable creatures. I like it when people describe them saying things like "gator-dog" or "bird-lizard-lady." It brings out the curious side of people.
Have you always imagined these creatures or do they present themselves when you're creating? Do you ever re-create certain ones?
Some creatures or characters are reoccurring. When I was a kid, I would draw bird-men riding skateboards and other silly things. Sometimes I think they are continuations of childhood drawings. Mostly my new sculptures are just a result of playing with new materials and letting whatever happens happen.
What’s your creative process? How long does it take to create one of your sculptures, or wood pieces, even paintings? Do you plan out or design what you’re going to do?
I used to keep a really extensive sketchbook. Lately my plans are pretty crude, a really simple doodle and some vague plans about how to build the skeleton of the thing. I don't really figure it out until the stuff is in my hands. I only recently started making fully 3D sculptures. I always wondered how my Grandfather (Don Shull) could make all of his hundreds of carved figures and things without sketching at all, but now I get it.
There’s a theme with eyeballs, tongues, even teeth in your art. Why give recognizable—or human—facial characteristics to your creatures or characters? Why do some have more than two eyes, or eyes in unusual places?
I am mostly just having fun. You kind of always can see a face in something if you look hard enough. I'm just bringing that straight to the surface. The two-eyes-on-one-side-of-the-face thing, if that's what you're talking about, came from trying to simplify designs into a profile view of a face, and it never looked right to me with just one eye, so...I put two eyes on there.
The colors you use are striking and complement each other nicely, what’s your relationship with color? Do you even think about it, or just go for whatever captivates you?
I want the brightest of the bright colors. When I first started making paintings, I used simple colors and black lines—red, yellow, black, white. Blue, red, black, white. It was out of necessity, I was broke as hell and couldn't afford much paint. I also had no clue what I was doing, it was effective, though. I had a teacher in high school who would always say, "K...I....S...S.....KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.” It works.
What’s your favorite, or current favorite, medium to work with?
I'm currently still experimenting with concrete and I love it.
What makes a folk artist? Who are your favorite?
Is everyone sick of hearing me talk about folk art yet? Ha-ha. I don't know. Art made by self-taught folks, just because they feel like it and without thinking about it too much. Or, because they realize that they can sell it and could use a little money. Or, because they feel like they have to for some reason. Lately, I am drawn to people's crazy yard sculpture environments, especially if there is concrete involved. I drove twelve hours to see S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden. I recently saw the Chauvin Sculpture Garden and Dr. Charles Smith's home while on a trip to New Orleans. I can't wait to see Pasaquan in Georgia.
Do you consider yourself to be one?
Shit, I get asked this a lot but I have no idea and answer differently every time. I was probably a lonely hermit folk artist in a past life.
You come from a family of artists. Was it an easy decision for you to focus on art as a living? Does your family encourage your work? Do you ever collaborate with them?
Making art was always encouraged. I tried to go to school for art but failed miserably. When I quit school people would say, "what are you doing, you're throwing your life away," now those same people are saying, "YOU’RE LIVING THE DREAM." Sometimes, you just gotta go with your gut and realize that you can make a living doing things that you love to do, and do it through unconventional means. Fuck this formulaic world.
Your grandfather recently had his first art show at age 82! Did you encourage him to do this? Did he enjoy it? Do you think he'll do another one?
Yes. I had mentioned the idea and he seemed excited, so I brought it up to Alex Lockwood and we made it happen. He loved it, he is already working on more things with another show in mind.
Standing next to Grandfather Don Shull's art.
You moved to Nashville about a year ago, what made you decide to take the leap and leave small-town life?
I'd been living around Carbondale, IL for over fifteen years. It was easy living, cheap, and I was living off of my artwork, how could I complain? I started coming to Nashville to do art shows, it's only a few hours from Carbondale. I met Bob Orrall and did two shows at Infinity Cat Records. I met Julia Martin and was in a couple of group shows at her gallery. Alex Lockwood invited me to do a residency and show at his new gallery called Elephant last year. I worked on the show in the gallery space for a month and basically never left. Alex offered me a studio in the building and a friend offered me a place to live. I couldn't say no.
Do you miss your wild trailer in the woods? Do you plan to turn your Nashville home into an art display like the one in Illinois?
I miss burning wood in my homemade wood-stove heater and my friends that lived nearby, and I miss doing whatever the hell I wanted to do to my home with nearly zero rules or restrictions. But, I don't really miss the trailer-life much at all. The mice, and the frozen pipes, and the juggalos next door, and the fearing for your life with every storm or gust of wind, that can all stay far in the past. I have sculptures in my yard here in Nashville. I planned on there being more by now, but I keep selling them. I hope to own my own property here where I can do whatever I want.
Wild trailer in the woods.
What do you think of the art scene here?
Coming from a place where very few art things go on outside of the university, it is amazing. Nashville has been nothing but welcoming to me. I was lucky to meet such great people and get a studio in a building with so many awesome artists.
Are you experimenting with any new ideas or concepts, genres, or techniques? Are you always experimenting?
I think I will ride on this furniture-thing for a while longer. Some sculptures that can take a beating are on the horizon, I'm thinking playground equipment.
If you could present your work in any gallery, where would it be?
No gallery! Ha-ha. A fully public space would be ideal.
What is Wei wu Wei? How does it apply to your work?
It means "action without action," something I latched onto some years ago. I get blocked up about things if I think about them too much. Sometimes, you just need to make something and figure out why you made it later on.
Where can we find more of your art?
Hopefully, in more yards around Nashville.
I swear one day I'm gonna plop a weird creature in the grass with those dumb buffalo sculptures on Dickerson.
FOUND is a monthly interview series by Original Fuzz Magazine. We aim to discover visual artists from every corner of the world, no matter the background or creative vision. Art is important. Find more articles in this month's issue, here.
FOUND is brought to you by Liz Earle, a writer who likes art. If you'd like to be a featured artist, let us know. You can send a message to our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.