Brett Hunter‘s art is as distinctly Carbondale, IL, as The Lost Cross House or post-show night lake swimming. His artwork is everywhere in town — from punk house walls, to light posts, to boutique stores, to large music venues. Somehow between writing, recording, and touring relentlessly with his bands, The Copyrights, The Heat Tape, and Dear Landlord, he finds the time to make a ridiculous amount of quality art and live off of it. He makes fliers, large sized paintings, t-shirts, shoes, sunglasses, you name it. I’ve been a huge fan of his work since I first saw it just over a decade ago. He’s a huge inspiration to me and a lot of people in our shitty little town because he proves that you don’t have to move away to a city in order to live off of what you love doing — being weird and working hard is all you really need.
by Ray Martinez-Suburbia
When I first met you back in 2002, you were primarily known in town as a musician who did some occasional flier art. Even then your art had a very distinct style, one that you’ve obviously elaborated on and honed over the years. Did the music come before the art, or the other way around? When did you think, oh shit, I’m an artist? Or have you even ever thought of yourself that way?
I don’t think of myself as some great important artist, but I’ve come to realize that it is what I am meant to do, and will be my life’s work. I’ve always made art, pretty much my whole life. It was very encouraged when I was a kid. I didn’t start playing music until I was 17, so the art definitely came first. But, I guess I really didn’t think, “Oh shit, I’m an artist,” until Bollman asked me to paint one of the window boards at Lost Cross. That was probably around 2002 — he made these boards to fit in the windows when there were shows, so that “the pigs” couldn’t see or hear all the fun we were having. I had never really painted anything that wasn’t on cardboard or paper at that point, and had never really sold anything, or shown work, or any of that stuff. He just knew that I was into drawing from fliers. The board turned out great, and I realized I could paint with cheap paint on cheap plywood, with three or four colors straight out of the tube, and make a surprisingly effective image. I had an art show at a coffee shop about a year later and started selling paintings. I’ve pretty much been doing the same thing ever since.
You’ve been using a lot of the same motifs in your art over the years, almost in phases. I remember a lot of babies and variations on the Old Style logo; now there seems to be a lot of eyes and text, and of course the obvious self-portrait style references. How did these different motifs develop? Have the changes been conscious?
Most of the themes or repeated images just came out of unconscious scribbling in my sketchbook. Then, looking back afterward, I could pick some images from those scribbles and use them in bigger paintings. Over the years I’ve come to realize that once I start thinking about something too much, or at all really, it ruins the whole thing. This goes for songs as well as paintings. Recently, I’ve embraced the idea of “effortless action,” just clearing my head and letting things happen without thinking about them. I just decide to make a song or a painting, get an initial idea, start working, and follow through. I like to get things done all in one day, never stopping to second guess myself. I work much better that way. You can learn a lot about yourself by going back and looking at what you unconsciously created.
As for text, I always grew up around American folk art. My grandparents liked to drive around and visit these weird self-taught artists all through the ’90s. They collected works from a bunch of different people — Howard Finster and Dow Pugh are two of my favorites. A lot of these pieces have strange messages on them, sometimes covering the entire piece. This was a big influence on my work. I can relate to these people because I have no real training but feel compelled to make things always. I consider myself to be a folk artist. Maybe “neo-folk” artist, ha ha.
As much as some people like to pretend it’s not true or that it’s total bullshit, punk and art have always gone hand-in-hand. Before punk became a lifestyle, it was an aesthetic. How much influence did punk art have on you and your own art? Were there any album covers, or even stuff like t-shirt designs that blew you away when you were younger?
I’ve always been a sucker for the shocking images from Black Flag and Dead Kennedys album covers — Pettibon and Winston Smith. I like it that they even freak out punks as well as squares. I mean, a cop with a gun in his mouth that says, “Make me cum, faggot”? Amazing. I like it when people try to be offensive and shocking; it makes me laugh. I like art to be ridiculous, mine included. Unfortunately, it’s hard to sell a painting of a naked kid trying to sell the freshly severed head of a naked man to another naked man. When did penises become offensive anyway? People even seem offended by breasts lately, or nudity of any kind — what the fuck? Squares everywhere, even in punk.
I mostly use nude figures in my paintings, because I feel like adding clothing adds unwanted stigma… Positioning the limbs to cover the “privates” seems really fucking lame to me, so I just put the dick in there, ya know, where the dick goes. That’s how I found out that the whole world hates penises.
Considering you are, in fact, the resident artist in all the bands you’ve been in, why is it that you’ve only done three record covers — The Copyrights’ Make Sound LP and the Dear Landlord/Chinese Telephones split 7” in 2007, and The Copyrights Learn the Hard Way LP in 2008, which was old art recycled for the cover. Have you done any shirt or sticker or miscellaneous other art for any of your bands?
I guess it’s because I never felt like I could just do whatever I wanted. All of the input and criticism from band members bummed me out and blocked me up. Also, I’m just not that good at graphic design stuff. I’ve had several t-shirt designs that I did that flopped because, frankly, they totally sucked. I think my “do it without thinking” philosophy doesn’t work for that kind of shit. Lately I’ve gotten into drawing electronically, on my tablet thing; that might make for some cool designs. I do all of the t-shirts and record layouts for The Heat Tape. I feel like I can do whatever I want with that band.
When Chinese Telephones and Dear Landlord went on tour together back in 2007, it was the first time I ever saw you selling non-band related art at shows. It was screen-printed self-portraits on large pieces of wood with different colorings and text painted over the repeated design. No band name, or logo, just pieces of art. You were selling them at totally affordable prices too, something like $20. Was this the first time you tried selling your art on a tour? And what made you think of doing that?
I did that once before, on the same kinds of boards, all the same size but different images on each one. It was for a tour with Groovie Ghoulies. I guess Kepi Ghoulie gave me the idea to sell art on tour. I was in a crazy hurry to get a bunch of pieces together before tour, and it took forever. I decided to make it easier the next time by including a screen-printed outline and minimal painting. This also made it easier for me to let them go for a minimal price. I sold a handful, probably gave more away. It was great to get 20 bucks in my pocket every couple of days. I remember Lauren from The Measure (SA) bought one, which was flattering. I haven’t brought art with me on tour since then, really. It was always awkward trying to fit my stuff with the band merch, and I felt like everyone just found it annoying. It took up space in the van and I was always freaking out about everybody else fucking them up. I recall roadie extraordinaire Lew Houston drunkenly cramming a stack of my paintings in the van as if he were stuffing pizza boxes in a trash can. He apologized in the morning.
I know that you’re not the first weirdo artist in your family. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your grandfather and his art and how that has influenced you. What has your family thought about the stuff you do? I’m curious as to what a parent’s reaction to a near life-size self portrait of their son with a droopy eye and a hammer dick would be. Read the rest of this entry »