Brendan Huntley’s work is immediate, visceral and often oddly familiar. His sculptures and works on paper deploy vibrant colour and tactile materiality, but these features are coupled to an experimental mindset and a willingness to explore, to open out the creative process by following tangents and tributaries.
Huntley speaks about his work in terms of the poetics of lived experience, emphasising the links between sensory experience and ephemeral (or perhaps even metaphysical) concerns. The artist describes the impetus behind his recent sculptures as “trying to conjure little glowing orbs of energy. Something extra-terrestrial and otherworldly. The flickering of a candle flame. The shimmering of slime or moss. The dripping of water over rocks. Lakes, pools and ponds operating like a visual vortex, leading us to other worlds, meditations and trains of thought.” Despite the poetic impulse underlying their construction, the way these sculptures came into being was grounded in an exploration of the materials themselves. Huntley remarks on his desire to explore “the richness and variety of the clays … and how their opposing tactility bounces off of each other.” Combining different clays into one object is no easy task; Huntley displays considerable technical prowess in making porcelain, raku, stoneware and terracotta work together in this way, but this is only a means to an end, a way of investigating an interaction between opposing physicalities.
Despite his preference for tactile processes that evoke the natural world and allow for happenstance and experimentation, Huntley’s practice is not wedded to any one set of materials. He resists being categorised as a ceramicist or potter, for instance, instead describing himself as “an artist who works with clay to create sculptures.” In his work, Huntley undertakes a balancing act between the demands of a given material and the traditions and baggage that it carries, and the creative impulse that drives him forwards.
It seems that, for Huntley, the ideas underpinning his practice in part determine the materials that he uses. The gouache and graphite works obey this logic; their painterly qualities function in service of the interactions between line, colour and surface that they interrogate. In this, the works feel diagrammatic or perhaps schematic, like complex three-dimensional shapes whose surfaces have been unfurled, laid out flat for the consideration of both viewer and artist.
Many of the works in Over the Moon, Under the Sun contain eyes, or references to sight: globes, lenses, striations suggesting the fine patterns of the iris contracting or expanding to let in light. However, they deploy these self-reflexive gestures in different ways; the ceramic works, with their elaborate, translucent glazes that evoke gems, tree sap or standing water, emphasise a kind of looking that is introspective and trancelike, while the bronze wall works, which incorporate moulds taken from bowls and other domestic objects, evoke “distant memories of domestic vessels [that] hint at the home, the safe house,” in Huntley’s words. This is another kind of looking, the easy glance at familiar objects that can, over time, almost render them invisible.
These works deal with the nature of objects, and with the way crafted things can become entangled with our lives, or can become talismans for thoughts, experiences or memories. Tellingly, Huntley himself often conceptualises his work in terms of its relationship to his own body; in the accompanying text to his 2018 exhibition Sky Light Mind, he describes wanting “to be enveloped by [the works], to be owned by them, to get lost in them, and then to chop, dig, brush, swim, push and weave my way back out, as though I was climbing a mountain…” This description of the creative process as a physical journey emphasises the extent to which Huntley’s work is a pathfinding expedition between various zones that threaten to subsume the enterprise on which he is embarked. He negotiates between the creative impulse and the technical specificities of art production, between the material and the immaterial, and between the sensory and the intellectual.