Emily Hunt’s desk space is crowded with tiny glazed stoneware figurines and tiered statuettes – vibrant jade and earthy brown characters are perched among stacks of vintage picture books, paints, tools and papers. Upon closer inspection, the stone and porcelain shapes come alive – the gnarled features and writhing, warped bodies that can be seen are evidence of the Sydney-based artist’s fascination with the grotesque, the ugly and the degenerate. Hunt has recently returned to Sydney from a residency in Berlin, setting up her latest studio space among the sprawling warehouses of Marrickville.
Towards the end of a long row of colourless, box-shaped brick buildings, and at the top of an unassuming concrete drive, lies the entrance to the artist’s studio and creative realm. She shares the warehouse space with some eight other artists, who each occupy mapped-out sections of the floor. “I actually prefer to have a private studio,” she admits, nodding towards the mishmash of creative stations. “Then I can completely spread out my hoard, drink and smoke while making art and play dance music without embarrassment.” Hunt’s desk is set up next to sound-artist and painter friend, Matthew Hopkins’, and a stack of abstract canvases striped with sharp mauve and red are leant against the wall. “But then, sharing a studio with eight other people gives you perspective on the art world,” she adds. “There are so many souls making art, and their conceptual concerns and aesthetics can be totally disparate from mine. It makes me realise the strange diversity of people’s artistic practice and minds.”
Hunt discovered the shared space through co-resident Hopkins and confesses the Marrickville rent is truly “cheap as chips.” But Sydney’s inner-west industrial circle is a long way from the flourishing creative diversity of Berlin’s artist studios and roaming warehouse squats. “My love affair with Berlin started in 2003 when I first visited the city and also watched the movie Christiane F,” says Hunt. The movie navigates a 1970s Berlin club scene, complete with David Bowie performing as himself. “My obsession for Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy also plays a huge part in my longing for Berlin,” says Hunt. “I find the city is not judgmental and vices are cheap to buy. There are fewer cars, the strip shopping is more bizarre and of course the rent is far cheaper.”
The artist has since participated in three gallery residencies in Berlin, the most recent being at Zentrum für Keramik (Centre for Ceramics) from July to September of last year, where she worked with German ceramics master, Thomas Hirschler. While Hunt’s earlier work was mostly based on painstakingly detailed painting, printmaking and collage, she has now let a fascination for ceramic material take hold. “The ceramic material was a serious replacement for air-drying clay, which has inferior archival qualities,” she explains. “That was an initial reason for moving into the permanent world of ceramics – but it is an addictive material. My paintings and collage are meticulous and time-consuming; I definitely use a different part of my brain to create clay sculptures, because I can totally experiment with form. It is a relief from painting, actually.”
And following on from the success of her exhibition Soiled last year at Redfern gallery The Commercial, Hunt plans to continue to experiment with the nuances of porcelain and stoneware. For Soiled, Hunt created blemish-like etchings by resting her unfinished pieces in an acid solution a little too long. Indeed, the idea of contorted wickedness and depravity carved into stone continues to both intrigue and concern Hunt. “Human vice is a constant in the history of man. Visual representations in the history of engraving of human vice, folly, sexual or violent urges, intemperance, keep fascinating me. So yes, it is a concern of mine and my artwork tries to reconcile my own ambivalence towards ‘human progress’, my misanthropy and my own intemperance.”
For an upcoming project however, Hunt will build an ambitious ceramic utopia out of fragments of broken and slithered statuettes that did not survive the journey home from Berlin, as well as new sculptures. The large-scale, diorama-style piece will be a part of a local model-train exhibition. “The large train layout will be made with assistance from local train-model enthusiasts, so that is exciting because I love working with people who are obsessed and who are experts,” she says. The sculpture will be a landscape of porcelain and stone grottoes and follies, towers and mounds. “The experience of imagining a world that is more awful than it is now is not difficult, and I realised I couldn’t face creating an entire miniature world of destruction. Follies are at once cheerful and morbid, both an ornament for a gentleman’s grounds and a mirror for his mind. I want to create a world where art is for art’s sake.”