Grant Hunter, New Weird Australia
Digital Painting. 12cmx12cm ©2009
A Poisoned Twee: Grant Hunter interview by Shaun Prescott
By Shaun Prescott September 3, 2009
“I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember. I remember drawing Masters Of The Universe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers – stuff like that from when I was a kid. I know a lot of that stuff is still in a box somewhere.”
For anyone familiar with Grant Hunter’s work, any mention of cartoons in relation to the 26-year-old’s drawings will probably come as no surprise. The Novocastrian noise-pop purveyor and erstwhile graphic artist seems to pointedly stretch everything he tries his hand at – whether it be music or art – into awkward, elongated and garishly captivating shapes, recalling the caricature of cartoon. As a central member in Newcastle group Crab Smasher, Hunter has managed to weave black humour and a technicolour freshness into a genre best known for its monochromatic sobriety. Grant Hunter also runs the Monstera Deliciosa label, for which he has designed album covers for both Crab Smasher and The Night Of Love – the later a nomadic improvisation unit with no fixed line-up.
“Crab Smasher came out of a really specific scene that was going on [on the Central Coast]”, Hunter recalls, “One Dollar Short, Something With Numbers, After The Fall – all those bands were all doing the exact same thing and it made [the coast] all the more boring because it seemed like every other band was emulating that sound, trying to be the next success story. We didn’t know anything about noise music, we just wanted to be obnoxious and make a point of doing our own thing. It’s evolved considerably since then, I’d like to think that we’ve matured over time and it’s not so much about pissing people off.”
Cartoons, as well as other pop cultural phenomena, were formative influences for Hunter. He recalls drawing “Super Mario Mushroom Kingdom fantasies” as a child, and Terminator 2 – that apex of 1990s action/science fiction cinema – inspired him to obsessively draw scenes from that film. In a lot of ways Hunter’s work seems to draw heavily from that decade, a period where the young artist’s mind would have been at its most impressionable. “Through most of my teens I was convinced I wanted to draw superhero comic books for a living,” he says, “but I never really dedicated myself to it and I skewed off in other directions, probably for the better.”
The result is a strange bastard form of psychedelic horror, or an inverted, poisonous twee blended with the bold simplicity of childhood illustrations. It seems that Hunter’s work will inevitably elicit one of two strong reactions, with the more positive reaction probably stemming from a shared cultural experience (ie mainstream 90s pop culture). It’s a period that Hunter seems to embrace unabashedly, with his some of his music tastes reflecting his interest in dubious forms of 1990s cultural output.
“I’ve been told by Fine Art educators that the figures and creatures in my work are intentionally confrontational and trying to be shocking, but I don’t really agree with that.” Hunter muses, “I’m not trying to shock people, I’m just more interested in ugly things. They’re cartoonish for sure, but that’s what I was raised on. I’ve never been influenced by realism and any attempts on my part to work in that realm have proven largely unsuccessful. This is just what comes naturally and I’m much happier playing to my strengths. I love to experiment but generally when I’m going for something outside my comfort zone it’s really forced and I feel like a bit of a fraud.”
Hunter believes that his drawings parallel his work in Crab Smasher in the way they challenge traditional attitudes towards authenticity, as well as the great divide between high and lowbrow art. “I’ve been studying a uni degree for the last few years and I’ve found that there’s this real opposition to new and contemporary art by a lot of the old dinosaurs within the institution,” he rails, “particularly if it is influenced by lowbrow things like comics or cartoons. And I think that occurs with Crab Smasher too. We definitely do have that novelty aesthetic, and we do encounter a bit of resistance to that from some other people we play with, I guess because they can’t really nail us down. Anything fun or funny in ‘experimental music’ seems to be off-limits, and so if we record some pop song that has more in common with Gwen Stefani than John Cage, it’s like it devalues some of our more arty and boring noise things or whatever. But polarising people is kind of what makes it fun for us.
“So really I’m just inspired by everything. I watch lots of movies and I’m slowly putting together a series of works inspired by Back To The Future part 2. I listen to lots of bad music. But what really inspires me is just being around other people that are making and doing their own things in their own way, and that enthusiasm kind of rubs off on me.”
This issue’s Cyclic Defrost cover is something of an anomaly for Hunter; more restrained in its use of colours, though still in keeping with his signature melding of the ugly and hilarious. Perhaps the opportunity to work away from the field of album artwork has produced something distinct from his earlier work.
“I’ve really been jazzed on digital painting lately,” he says regarding the cover. “I bought a graphics tablet about a year ago, and it’s really another set of skills that I’ve had to learn. It’s kind of less experimental in some ways but also much more forgiving, particularly with the work I do. It will never replace traditional tools for me, but I really like playing with it.
“With this specific work I was hoping to incorporate a variety of different media, such as handmade drawings, paintings, photography, and digital work, but ended up completing it 100% on the computer.” He continues. “I tend not to think things out too much with my works, generally I just start with a blank page and something comes of it, often just through roughing out some shapes and hoping that an image or idea starts to take shape. I tend to overwork a lot of the things that I do, and I reall wanted this to be simple and kind of just pop out.
“I don’t know how I came to work the rabbits into it, but they tend to pop up in a lot of my drawings and paintings. I wanted a strong figure and I think the main rabbit is just really gnarly, in ways that many of my characters often aren’t. I completed the work over a night or two with Corel Painter and some final tweaking in Adobe Photoshop. My laptop is a little bit slow and it was having all kinds of meltdowns but I got there in the end. This was really challenging for me, I’ve always loved the idea of guest artists on Cyclic Defrost and honestly never thought I would have the opportunity to do it, so I hope I haven’t messed up and bombed completely. I hope people like it.”