“The curves and crisp lines fascinate me. Wrinkles, stretchmarks, curves, moles, hair. They are the most beautiful parts, but beyond beautiful they tell a story of shifting, changing and growing. It reminds me that life is not forever, that age has a powerful beauty to it.”
The body is unassembled, taken apart and reformed so that it has a new identity, a new existence. The artist imbues his creations with a sense of his deep respect, so that the works pulse back with fervour, their dancing forms possessed of straight-backed confidence. He is playing at being God, but a god that instead of demanding reverence, reveres what he creates.
Brendan Huntley’s work is a textured marriage of technique and concept. His technique has developed primarily through observation and practice, beginning as a small child at his mother’s elbow watching her turn clay, or at his father’s side observing him painting landscapes. These days, he creates large-scale works in his studio in Melbourne, experimenting with colour, line and form. He has a second studio and kiln at his mother’s house, where he works with clay: subverting traditional methodology, layering terracotta, raku and stoneware, and then painting the sculpted forms with glaze and slip. The processes intertwine; what should be flat becomes textured. “I sculpt while I paint and I paint while I sculpt,” he says. “I don’t see a distinction between the 2D paintings and the 3D sculptures. I cut, and I glue, I rip and I mould.”
The concepts of his work are flexible, twisting away depending on the observer’s own identity. Huntley admits that some people may feel a deep connection to the work, whereas others may feel frightened. There is something important to grasp in that fear—Huntley’s work can bring things up from the viewer’s subconscious that they are afraid of acknowledging.
The shapes appear female, with protruding nipples, pubises, waists and bums. They take various forms, with many shapes and sizes represented. The female body is a powerful thing, and Huntley is profoundly aware of the gravity of the form. “It’s powerful,” he says, “because it has the ability to birth another human… It gives life. These are the shapes which actually provide life.” He sees his work as a reaction to the censorship that women experience in public forums, such as the backlash against breastfeeding in public and the role played by social media in censoring women’s bodies.
Huntley’s torsos are headless, but until about three years ago he focused on the human body from the shoulders up. After a certain point, he felt as though he had reached the end of what he could do with that subject matter, and was excited when he found himself letting go and giving life to different shapes. Artists have focused on the female torso across the centuries, and Huntley is obviously referencing that history in these works. At present, he is sculpting the female torso because, he explains, he wants to celebrate its joyful and exciting shapes, and explore the many places he can take it in terms of line, colour and structure.
At times, there is an almost grotesque beauty in the way Huntley’s creations have been cut apart and stuck back together. This element of the work is a nod to the process of abstraction, which entails stripping back and dissecting forms to their basic components: line, tone and colour. Huntley goes through this process, but then recreates his forms, so that they once again have meaning and substance. Whereas some people go to surgeons in order to recreate their bodies in the image of an ideal of perfection, Huntley is recreating bodies after his own ulterior ideal, which embraces the way that nature and age sculpt and texture bodies.
When it comes down to it, Huntley wants his work to be interpreted by the viewer. He wants people to take away what they will, whether those feelings are peaceful, fearful, joyful, sensual, inspired or thoughtful. To him, each work casts a different spell.