A reader asks, who is John Hunter? I can only find a long-dead Scottish painter of horses with that name? Where can I find his biography? Why do you feature him so much?
I will do my best to answer as I am able. John Hunter is a living artist, born in 1934, who attended art college in Pasadena, California and is among the “California School” that includes Ed Ruscha, Mel Ramos, et al. Unlike others in this group, he has remained quiet, unassuming and modest and still busily making art in his studio today. He chose to enter academia, and like Wayne Thiebaud at Cal State, Davis, Hunter associated himself with San Jose State University where he taught from his youth to his retirement. He is well-known to many collectors and, of course, his former students. His work is in museums all over the world, from the Metropolitan in New York to the Norton Simon in Pasadena. He is, of course, in the Who’s Who of American Artists. He never promotes himself, even though he has some very fancy friends and admirers in the limelight. He had his Hollywood period. (See his suite Going Hollywood, and the huge print, Hollywood and Vine in my gallery.) Hunter’s paintings were used in the Rock Hudson film, Seconds, where Hudson plays a painter. I wish I could have asked the director, John Frankenheimer, what Hunter pieces he had in his collection. When Hunter was at San Jose State he tried to get his long-time friend Dennis Hopper on staff to no avail. Pity.Once when I drove up from LA to see him in the Bay Area, I had just missed his house-guest Richard Chamberlain, his college roommate and life-long friend.
It is strange how some artists catch fire and ascend into the sky like sparks, whereas many hard-working artists manage to live in near obscurity without any fanfare or fireworks.
John Hunter has worked steadily at his art, inspiring students and other artists, even a cartoonist or two, for a long life. For those of us who discovered him and began collecting his works he is a very special artist, unique in vision, serious with an overlay of whimsy. To me almost all of his pieces include a wink at the world we live in, the lives we lead, the hardship and the fun sometimes inter-mixed. I love a room, a landscape, a work of art where my eye never rests, where an artist’s pencil or pen never rests, and I stop only when I grow tired of looking and wondering at the creator’s wonderment.
Let your eyes take in his beautiful lithograph Childhood, for example, perhaps my favorite print. There is first of all the yellow, blue and then the red, colors of birthday balloons. The colors of happiness,icons of a happy childhood with teddy bears, castles for toy soldiers and princesses. My eye wanders and there is a cherub with a pennant, or a white rabbit with a pennant, a recurring motif. I look for that rabbit and find it in other pictures. I see returning icons that begin to look like signs that identify this as a work by John Hunter. I never tire of his many signatures. Each of his works is a place of discovery! Oh he can be outrageous, but it is always at his own expense, exposing himself while remaining hidden on paper or canvas. There are many self-portraits in his pictures. He is very much evident.
I am not an art critic, and only minored in Art History, so am unqualified to comment on the art of John Hunter, but I know there is something timeless and permanent about the quality and importance of his output as well something highly enjoyable. I have collected his prints ever since I bought my first lithograph years ago from a San Francisco Art Gallery. It was intriguing to the point where I had to own it. The subject was a large ugly creature of some kind, inhuman but almost… sliding on a surfboard into center of the paper between two orange stripes at the edges. The mis-shapen “thing” was grinning in waves of blue and green, challenging the viewer. It was so long ago, and I forget what I paid for it, but not the picture!
Years later, with a growing Hunter collection, I took a print to a frame shop and happened to mention that I had gone to the library and found that Hunter had taught at San Jose State. “He still does.” The framer said, (bless him forever). Well, this called for action. I immediately found the artist was teaching a life drawing class, so I signed up. It was the end of the sign-up period, and the class was closed, but I stood in the hall waiting for the professor to show up.I planned to beg him to be allowed to add.
It was not long before a happy man came whistling along pushing a cart with an old record player and a stack of old vinyl records (Louis Prima and Keely Smith) whistled towards me. It could only be the artist himself! He didn’t look at me or stop when I asked if I could add the class, but said in his happy voice, “Class is closed, but you’re the last one, come on in.” What an experience his class was, as anyone can tell you who has been his student.
And that initial purchase of the surfboard creature came in handy to cement my place in his closed class because I had copied it on my big newsprint drawing pad, and when he came to inspect our first attempts, he said, “Oh my. Where’d you get that?” His eyes twinkled merrily with surprise. “It’s just something I own.” I replied. “You must be a nice person,” He said and moved on around the circle of students. I continued with the class. I continued being a collector of his work, purchasing many prints from Lakeside Gallery in Michigan.
In 1993 when I moved to L.A. I found him represented by the Herbert Palmer Gallery, so I visited and looked at their Hunter inventory to find many of the prints I had in my own collection (priced much higher.) The gallery had only one week before held a John Hunter exhibit and the artist had driven down South for the opening. This was a rare occasion since I know he does not like to travel, despite being in Europe on a Guggenheim in his early days. (I have several prints from this time on these pages.) I regret being too late for that event as I would have loved to have seen the artist again.
I know from the times we have met and talked through the years that he is loyal and kind to his friends, and generous to a fault. Once long ago when I was abandoned after a brief marriage to a thief who disappeared taking with him many of the paintings and valuables I had accumulated years before, it was John Hunter who allowed me to sell some remaining things at his “garage sale.” And once when I came back from a near-death mission to Guatemala, broke and ill, it was John Hunter who bought some of my pictures to help me pay my rent for a month when I returned to Los Angeles. He has proven more than once that he is more than a just a friend to his friends.
Oh and I found my stolen copy of Childhood for sale in a gallery in Santa Rosa and purchased it for the second time. (The fraudulent marriage has long been annulled.)
Once I told John I had discovered the secret of the surfboard picture. If you turn it upside down it is the exact design of a famous Georgia O’Keeffe rendering of a bleached cow skull with orange borders. He just smiled, but did not admit I was on to something. Of course, he is a California artist, a man who a San Francisco print seller said, when I asked him the meaning of the picture, “Hunter believes Californians spend too much time in the water.” A California answer, playing in the sea as an answer to the sere landscape of a New Mexico artist. Is that sexy?
The big print of the creature who stayed in the water too long is still long-gone from me, perhaps owned by another serious art collector. I would like to have it back again if anyone wants to sell it to me.
Childhood $2,000. firm. Signed and numbered in colored pencil by John Hunter. Professionally framed by Grey Goose in Los Feliz.. Dimensions and provenance on request.
So here’s what I know for sure. John Hunter is a kind friend who lives a quiet life in a little Spanish style house with a beloved wife in San Jose where he has lived for years and continues to make art. Because of his steady output without firecracker press coverage or publicity, his work is still very affordable to collectors of moderate means who may enjoy discovering buried treasure. John Hunter is a singular American artist who has put his life into his paintings and prints for you to discover and enjoy for a long time.
“Death and Transfiguration” an exquisite original print limited edition, signed and dated by the artist, John Hunter. $2,000. Framed with museum papers. Pristine condition. Exact details on request. Look long and hard and enjoy the experience of discovery.
Detail from the historic suite of twelve original prints with cover print, The Life Cycle, signed and numbered in pencil and dated by the artist. From Plucked Chicken Press and the Lakeside Studio. In perfect condition. No tears or creases. Note: This is just a tiny portion of the print. The suite can be seen in its entirety elsewhere on this site. $12,000. Firm. This may well be the only intact suite outside of museums today. A great investment for a beginning collector. Dimensions on request.
Extremely rare original lithograph signed and dated in colored pencil by the artist. Very limited edition. Homage. From Munch’s iconic scream to a self portrait of the artist, John Hunter.$3,000. firm.
All prints are framed professionally by Grey Goose studios in Los Angeles. Color coordinated metal frames with archival paper/mattes to last 100 years.
Disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been involved in a contract to deal with or for John Hunter. My admiration for his work has led to my rather large private collection which I am now selling after many years of ownership. It hurts to part with even one small piece, but my advancing age and concern for these original lithographs forces me to include them for sale in my gallery. An investor cannot display gold or oil stocks on the wall, but a work of art gives us the pleasure of looking at our investment as it grows with time.