If Laura Hunt’s career path were predicted only from her early days, one would not have expected her to become an artist. Her first 17 years were spent on a farm in rural Central Texas where art education of any kind was a rare if non-existent commodity. She has always created art somehow, and as most kids do, she drew. At age 16, she responded to a “Draw Me Talent Test,” an adver-tisement placed in a farm magazine by Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis. She drew the simple image in the ad and mailed it to the school. This was how the school found prospects for their correspondence course in graphic design, so of course, a salesman paid a visit.
Hunt remembers, “To my surprise, my parents signed me up, an out-of-character decision for very practical and frugal farmers.” She stuck with it about a year, but struggled to advance without a hands-on teacher and without an artist role model in sight. She went on to Tarleton State University to major in English, abandoning her first love—or so she thought.
“During my junior year, everyone in the dorm decorated their doors for Christmas. I created a silhouetted manger scene, and was floored when I won first prize, a huge tin of popcorn. That and an art history elective were my only art endeavors during college. By the time I earned my degree, got married, and had my first child, I had spent about nine years not nurturing the artist within me. I had taught middle-school English, written scripts for a multi-media company, and published some poetry, but hadn’t attended to the part of me that loved image-making.”
The creative urge returned as her little son passed out of the baby stage and entered toddlerhood, giving her a little more time on her hands. She bought a stitchery kit, embroidered her first piece during baby nap time, and was quickly bored with copying the picture on the package. She started embroidering her own designs, selling them at craft fairs in the San Antonio, Texas, area where she lived with her young family.
A workshop in banner-making, led by San Antonio fiber artist and author Becky Patterson, propelled Hunt to a several-year career in textiles. Her hangings made of weathered blue jeans, found objects, old crocheted lace and appliqued fabrics found their way into galleries in Fredericksburg, TX, and Jackson Hole, WY. One of them invited her to be part of a two-artist show.
After a move to Houston, family needs required a second steady paycheck, so she became a production assistant in a printing shop, seeing this as a way to learn graphic design on the job. This step eventually launched a 30-plus year career in graphic design, and marketing consulting, a fortuitous blend of her skills, interests and education.
Following a move to nearby La Porte, TX, and the birth of her second son, she took her first life drawing classes by acclaimed Houston artist, Jose Perez. “The only way to get into the class was to know someone in it who would alert you to an opening. A friend who was taking the class did just that. I was accepted into the class, and became totally smitten with drawing the figure!” She made time for instruction in pastel portraiture as well.
“I even enrolled in classes at University of Houston at Clear Lake with the intent of getting an MFA,” Hunt recalls. “After one semester, the professor, who had seemed doubtful of this non-traditional student, told me ‘You’re on the right track.’” Although a move to Fort Worth cut those plans short, she continued to develop her skills. She entered the commercial world through her cut paper illustrations, working for ad agencies and two different greeting card companies. Eventually the award-winning graphic design and marketing business she had started left little time for her own art.
“No regrets,’ says Hunt. ‘It was a fit for me. And it’s ironic that graphic design was the career that correspondence course was intended to teach me as a teenager.”
2013 brought significant change. Hunt’s beloved husband passed away, and she faced the necessity of reinventing her world. She left her marketing and design career behind to immerse herself into her own art, naming her endeavor SeptemberArt Studio which incorporates her own birth month and that of loved ones. “Thankfully, I had spent over 30 years in the commercial world honing design and business skills that would serve me well as a fine artist.” Hunt says.
Watercolor was her re-entry point. Working small, she expressed her grief and her changed reality on paper. Stamping and collage elements became a part of her developing style. She enrolled in life drawing and watercolor classes, taught by the respected Texas artist Carol Ivey, to refresh her skills and her spirit. As she became more confident, her work grew larger, and began to reflect her positive, hopeful worldview.
As she defined her artistic vision, she began to focus on abstraction, with a growing desire to work larger than watercolor on paper would practically allow. Acrylics on canvas became her new medium of choice, often with the addition of other media—collage, stamping, and even dry wall paste.
Hunt continued to broaden her artistic vocabulary. When she cleaned out her late husband’s wood-working shop in the summer of 2017, not only did the blank slate of space present itself, so did a treasure trove of non-traditional art supplies. She renovated the space and began using it to produce 3-D found object assemblages that expanded her visual expression.
Since the beginning of 2019, Hunt has focused on contemporary figurative painting, which melds her love of abstraction and her interest in the human condition. After several years of creating non-objective abstract work, she responded to the insistent tug at the sleeve to create a new body of work, one that would have at its core the human figure and the universal stories it could tell. They tell of her attempts to understand and explore human relationships and emotion, social issues and empathy. But she didn’t leave abstraction completely behind. It still appears in the ambiguous but vaguely familiar back-grounds that provide her archetypal figures a home. She continues to explore the relationships between painterliness and content, between materials and subject matter.
Describing her process, Hunt explains, “Most of my work begins with a photographic image. It may be a grainy, dusty vintage photo of some long forgotten kin that captures my attention as I rummage through the family archives. At other times I ask friends and relatives to pose for me. And I’m not above some benign stalking when I’m out in public where I may capture a photo of a stranger’s iconic gesture.”
She takes the image into photo editing software, emphasizing contrast and simplifying shapes. The result becomes her reference at the easel—or in the case of digital work, at the iPad.
Cradled wood panels are Hunt’s favorite surfaces for easel painting. “I like their crisp corners, their firmness, and their “object-ness.” She tapes off the wooden edges to save them for staining. After applying gesso, she covers the surface with color—red, orange, turquoise, or whatever feels right for the subject. Even if entirely covered, the first layer influences the overall presence of the painting, peeking through gaps and energizing the work.
Her portraits and figures aim for the emotional, the iconic, the archetypal. She achieves a certain universality through simplification of shapes. The addition of a dark outline flattens the figure and facilitates the shift from individuality to symbolism. At times, she brings in collage elements that add surface interest. ”I’m not interested in capturing a perfect likeness, but rather a relatable mood or emotion,” says Hunt.
Hunt cites many influences that include the folk art of Africa and the Americas, the Abstract Expressionists and the Bay Area Figurative painters. “I’m attracted to paintings of figures that are completely non-academic. Seeing the work of David Bates, Catherine Kehoe and David Park, affirms my direction. Their economy of technique and originality of expression inspire me. I hope to reach a place where I will have my own version of that.”
In 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, Hunt began experimenting with digital art, learning to create figurative work in this new medium. She strives for a painterly look and feel. And although the medium presents opportunities not offered by easel work (and vice versa), her digital art has been mistaken for a traditional painting.
“No matter what medium I use, I strive to create art that stirs something within the viewer, evokes an ache or heals a hurt, and fosters meaningful conversations,” Hunt states when asked about her mission. “Art has the power to express the unspoken longings of the human heart.”
Outside of her studio time, Hunt has varied interests. On her small urban property, Hunt has maximized the use of her courtyard by turning part of it into a vegetable garden, grown in metal tanks designed for feeding livestock, a small reminder of her rural roots. She enjoys cooking with a plant-based emphasis, especially for friends and loved ones. Travel is another interest, especially for the purpose of visiting her children and grandchildren in Colorado and Oregon. And she looks for the opportunity to host the occasional party, including studio events several times a year.