Paul Hunter

Musée du Québec

Paul Hunter’s vision bears the indelible yet ephemeral stamp of an urban explorer. Hunter assembles slices of life, Lilliputian atelier interiors, dormant parking lots, and night views of Manhattan in narrow, wooden boxes that we look into through viewing holes. Like photography in reverse, Hunter’s “pièges a lumière” (light traps) transform the effects of light back into three dimensions.

In “Homeless,” 1986, groupings of white plastic figures have been arranged as in a maquette for a theatre set. In a second section additional figures are shown moving along a series of empty passageways at varied perspectival distances. The scale of these pieces is so exacting that they seem instantly accessible, but the reductive, unsettling feeling they transmit bespeaks alienation.

The “Petrefacta” series, 1987, consists of four ceramic and wood pieces spotlit from above and displayed in glass museum cases. Arranged in taut, rectangular formats, the preternatural, not-quite-identifiable forms seem to have been caught by a high-speed camera. Their charcoal black exteriors give them a haunting poetic quality. A more recent series entitled “Hortus Conclusus” (Enclosed garden), 1989–90, repeats the same theme but in smaller bronze wall-mounted reliefs that replicate rhythmic patterns of leaves, shells, or seaweed. Though beautifully executed, these works are less visually powerful than those in the “Petrefacta” series. We perceive the same momentary light effects only because we have already experienced them in the previous series.

In “The End of Nature Series,” 1990, “street jewels”—colored pieces of glass, old nails bound together with copper wire, beer can tabs, popsicle sticks, leaves and pine needles—encased in rectangular slabs of encaustic wax, seem on the verge of mysteriously appearing or disappearing, as if in a pool of alkali. These objects are of the ordinary sort we might notice when walking along a city street. The strongest piece is the simplest, a single leaf bound in time by the dimensionality of its white translucent setting.

Les Impérialistes” (The imperialists, 1989–90), a group of bronze caricatures of captains of industry and state, look like pterodactyls in drag, and bring to mind Daumier’s work. Informed by a sardonic sense of humor, they have none of Hunter’s usual inquiring sensitivity.

This exhibition of Hunter’s recent work reveals his curiosity about who we are and where we are going as a civilization. Rather than answer these questions, however, he leaves us with a sensitive, ephemeral paleontology of the present.

John K. Grande