Otago-based artist Bruce Hunt has two very distinct strings to his bow: fine photojournalistic studies of the people who live in the unforgiving landscape of northeastern Brazil, and exceptional portraits of the landforms of the deserted hill country of North Otago.
While these two subjects may seem almost completely unrelated to each other, there is a common thread that runs between them – the domination of the landscape over human endeavour. With Hunt’s Brazilian photos, taken during several years living in that country, there is a strong sense of the land shaping the people who live in it. So too, Hunt’s evocative paintings of the Central Otago. The hills here have a living presence which defies attempts by humans to alter their distinct character.
In Tussock, at Auckland’s Artis Gallery, Hunt presents a series of large scale paintings of Otago, better described as portraits of the land than as landscapes. The strong flowing diagonal forms and rich dry colours depict a primal New Zealand, of vast, challenging, muscular landscapes. The images are a return to the painter’s roots: his earliest paintings, done during the 1980s, were of the tussock country between the Waitaki River valley and the towns of Naseby and Ranfurly, and particularly the rough hill country around Danseys Pass. After the boisterous, colourful life of northeastern Brazil, Hunt has sought out a return to these same strong bones of the land which first caught his artistic eye.
Travelling into the hills on foot, Hunt has immersed himself in the landscape, becoming intimately aware of the geomorphology and architectural qualities of the land. The physical contact with the country and the walker’s shifting viewpoint reveals new facets of the topography with every step, and the artist becomes aware through this contact with the underlying structures which form the backbone of the hills. The raw, physical encounter with the countryside becomes the heart of the artist’s work, and Hunt’s paintings allow us, too, to sense a connectedness with the land and the insignificance of human activity when set against the scale and might of nature. These feelings are evident in viewing Hunt’s paintings, where the hard tussock-clad clay meets the equal grandeur of the Otago sky.
Bruce Hunt’s exhibition, Tussock is on display at Artis Gallery in Auckland from 26 February until 17 March.