Nicolas Hunt’s Caliber Abstractions
By Kathy Zimmerer
Through July 16th
Paintings with bullet holes by Nicholas Hunt seem to echo the headlines as gun violence became even more political with the GOP baseball practice shooting, and another gun fueled rampage devastating the UPS workplace in San Francisco. Hunt’s brilliantly colored metal paintings have a shimmering surface of layer upon layer of saturated color; they are then pierced randomly by gunshots by the artist. On view at the new downtown gallery Mugello in Caliber Abstractions, these paintings have a strange beauty and unique and random texture that gives them an aura of worn industrialization. Hunt uses the newest technology, his aluminum canvases reflect a specific technique, as they are laser cut polished, anodized, and painted with ten or more layers of oil based enamel.
His gun shots echo previous artists’ attempts that were much more violent, visceral and conceptual such as Chris Burden’s early 70’s piece where he was shot in the hand, Shoot (1971) which consisted of the 25-year-old Burden being shot in the arm at close range by a friend. Although Hunt was inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning drawing (1953, SFMOMA) in a kind of random destruction of an iconic work of art, using bullets to create art is a unique and rather explosive way to create form, pattern and texture. Along with his laser cutting, his art owes much to the mechanical, pointing perhaps to a trend of technology that will become ever more apparent as it permeates our culture thoroughly with laser cutters, 3D printing and interactive digital imagery, even pulling the trigger is a mechanical gesture. More than his evolution through process or conceptual art it is interesting that the bullet becomes a tool to create a painting, he builds art rather than destroying it. His work continually brings to mind the epidemic of gun violence in America; each new outrage begins with shocked momentum then is slowly fades into oblivion without any new gun laws or prohibitions. To Hunt, these bullet punctures are the wounds life inflicts but are overcome as he writes, “This work is about being challenged, rewarded, broken, repaired, and scarred physically and sometime emotionally by life…”
Some works are round, such as Caliber Abstraction Apple Red on Gold #1, a brilliant large crimson disc with multi faceted bullet holes and abrasions that enhance the surface. A vivid emerald green (Caliber Abstraction Meadow Green on Red #1), a glowing yellow (Caliber Abstraction Sun Yellow on Red #1) and a sky blue orb (Caliber Abstraction Many Mahalos KP) all feature an intensity of color but their perfection is marred by the holes. The discs are brightly colored but still have an infinite variety because of randomness of Hunt’s technique. Other works are subtler such as his rectangular piece; I fall in love too easily, which looks drenched in the colors of the sunset, with all kinds of delicate variations in color and texture.
While his single discs have great presence his multiple panels show how different caliber bullets create rougher or smoother surface depending on its size. Especially jarring is Caliber Abstraction Ballistic: ACP 45, a rectangular box with panels of yellow, orange, green, red, blue, purple that have a staggering variety of holes, from areas of the surface that are blasted away to tiny holes, it makes for a change in depth and color. His vertical triptych of black and white, Bird, Buck, Slug: White on Black #1, shows the bullet marks in high contrast, with areas gutted while other spots are smooth, it is a dramatic use of texture. Most effective is his all black triptych, Bird, Buck, Slug: Black on Black #1, that has huge holes in it, it could be painterly epitaph to violence with its dark, tar like layers and riddled surface. This dark side evident in this triptych is perhaps is worth further exploration by the artist, it is a stark and elegiac commentary on how beauty coexists with terror in our society.