Richard Hunt and Faheem Majeed, artists, Chicago

with Asha Veal Brisebois

 Richard Hunt and Faheem Majeed

in dialogue at Mr. Hunt’s studio in Chicago, Illinois 

March 19, 2016

 

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Do you remember how we met? I remember it clearly, but you’ve met so many people you might not remember…



RICHARD HUNT is a nationally and internationally renowned sculptor, and in 1971 became the first African-American sculptor to have a major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Hunt has completed more than 125 commissions for public sculpture across the United States. In addition to his artistic practice, Hunt has served on the boards of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Smithsonian Institutions.


FAHEEM MAJEED is a Chicago artist and sculptor, former director of the South Side Community Art Center, and former associate director of UIC School of Art & Art History. In spring/summer 2015, Majeed presented his first museum solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. He is currently collaborating on the Floating Museum, a project that blends creative place-making, activism, and exhibition design.

 


 

FAHEEM MAJEED: Do you remember how we met? I remember it clearly, but you’ve met so many people you might not remember.

RICHARD HUNT: I remember you calling me up when you got here… Well, actually, you tell yours, because I’ve got the excuse that I’m so much older than you. I’ve heard that when people get into their eighties they get—

Faheem: It all starts mashing together.

Richard: [laughing]

Faheem: Being trained as a metal sculptor, so falling in love with steel and the fabrication process, and studying at Howard University… Richard has three really great pieces on the campus. So there’s the knowing the man—[1]

Richard: There’s a metal sculptor from Chicago that taught at Howard.

Faheem: Who? Not James King? [2]

Richard: What’s his name?

Faheem: Mel?

Richard: He worked with bumpers…

Faheem: Not Mel Edwards? [3]

Richard: You’re a young man. Come on!

Faheem: My memory, hey! I’m having those moments too.

Richard: You go ahead. I’m sorry that I interrupted you.

Faheem: I know who you’re talking about. It’s not Mel Edwards. I started going to school right around the time he passed away. I was one of the young people asked to come and help clear out his space. You’re right. I just missed him.

But, I wanted to show you something. Something that you might not be aware of. Let me see… Where is it… You might get a kick out of this… So, I have these three pictures, and I’ll share them with you. These are the sculptures. That’s ‘A Bridge Across and Beyond.’ [4] It’s at Howard University, where I studied. So there are three. ‘Freemen’s Column,’ [5] which is in front of Crampton Auditorium. Behind Crampton Auditorium is where the metal studio was—and ‘metal studio’ is being very generous. It was an abandoned dance studio. There was one metal sculptor in there—me—plus some equipment, a retired professor named Bill Taylor,[6] and David Smedley. So a lot of things along the lines of scrapping and pulling things together, it’s something that I learned early on.

But this was inspiration going to class every day. For four years I would walk by Richard’s work. Also, Richard, “Symbiosis.” I— [7]

Richard: Right. That’s on the other side of campus.

Faheem: I joined a fraternity called Alpha Phi Alpha, [8] and Symbiosis is the adopted plot. So I brought you all these… Let me see, where is it… Because I always wondered if you knew about this. You might get a kick out of this, Richard. Along the lines of impact. So here’s that piece.

[plays video, there’s action and music]

This is something that was recently posted. It starts out with Symbiosis, and then shows all these images of black men associated with this fraternity. This is kind of a homecoming video. They’ve all adopted your sculpture. It was included as the focal point. When they all come to campus, they stand around it and take pictures. I don’t know if you ever knew that…

Richard: No, I did not.

Faheem: Symbiosis is revered. This chapter is the second oldest chapter in the fraternity. It’s a very prestigious chapter. Your sculpture sits at the forefront. When we think of think of the fraternity we think of your sculpture. And for generations, and generations. All the people who come through the organization are familiar with your work.

Richard: That’s very interesting. You know, it makes me wonder, the person who gave that sculpture to Howard was a person named Hobart Taylor Jr. [9]He might have been a member of that group, but it might have been very much coincidental.

Faheem: I’ll check. I never thought about that. I always thought you were very involved with the process of it.

Richard: When you say the process of it—

Faheem: Installing. So he purchased it—

Richard: I had something to do with installing it. But Hobart Taylor Jr., and I’m trying to remember if he went to Howard. But at the time he was a trustee at Howard. He was a lawyer, very much involved in a lot of things. At the time I met him, he was mostly involved with business. But he was Texas. Went to Prairie View A&M undergraduate. I don’t know, I think he might have gone to Howard, but then he ended up getting a law degree from the University of Michigan. For many years he was a trustee. As a matter of fact, he had something to do with the negotiations that brought the other two pieces there. The Mildred Andrews Fund commissioned them. He worked with the administration to work out the commissioning process. Then when he died, he had an estate in Middleburgh, Virginia. The horse country out there. So anyway when he died he gave that piece to them.

Faheem: Well, to this day people go and sit around it. I’ll find a bunch of pictures of people sitting around it. I’ll bring a whole portfolio. But it’s just thinking about the impact… So, here are these two things. I first knew Richard through the medium. As aspiring, like that’s who I wanted to be. So eventually I moved to Chicago, not really being aware that Richard was in Chicago. When I talked about my inspirations, art collectors and people said ‘Well you know he’s in Chicago.’ The first week I was here. So I started to nosing around the neighborhood trying to find the studio. There was a guy named John Mason, who was friends with a friend of mine named Eric Nicks. I called over, and Richard was nice enough to talk with me. Then I just showed up. Hung out for a whole summer, just kind of in the space helping out, and just watching him work. That was roughly around 2003 or so.

Richard: Yes, that’s what I remember.

Faheem: You remember when I showed up, I had a sculpture for you?

Richard: Indeed, indeed. I have it at my place in Benton Harbor.

Faheem: He’s like, ‘Why are you giving me this?’

Richard: I was a little overwhelmed. I mean, it’s not every day that somebody comes with a nice sculpture.

Faheem: For me, it was like, ‘I’ve know you for a while…’ So yes, we’ve been friends ever since. And I see Richard as a relative. Especially within my art practice. As a mentor, and as someone who though example, has been a very significant part of my art practice and I think about a lot.

– 

  



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I said ‘This would make a great studio.’ One thing led to another and I was able to get it. In those days when the neighborhood wasn’t the neighborhood you see now, it was something an artist could do. It would be hard to now.


ASHA VEAL BRISEBOIS: Can you tell us a bit about this building? You’ve been here for over forty years, I believe?

Richard: Yes, I’ve been here since 1971. Late in 1971. A collector friend of mine who was a lawyer in real estate business, found out that this building, which was an electrical substation, built as an electrical substation, had been decommissioned. It was then part of the Chicago Transit Authority’s facilities. Had been built by the Chicago Railways Company, when there were a lot of separate lines around the city. Street cars, which ran on rails, up and down the streets. There’s a street nearby, Lincoln Avenue, that runs diagonally northwest from downtown. It had one of these streetcar lines. The park across the street was a trolley barn which took up all of that space, and then this was adjacent to it.[10] Anyway, the Chicago Transit Authority built a new place underneath the elevated tracks just to the east, of the red line, brown line purple line. They vacated this. So my lawyer friend who I was doing a commission for said, ‘I saw a building I think would make a great studio.’ So we came and looked at it, and I said ‘This would make a great studio.’ One thing led to another and I was able to get it. In those days when the neighborhood wasn’t the neighborhood you see now, it was something an artist could do. It would be hard to now—it would take somebody like Faheem to be able to afford it! You know, he’s on his way there—

Faheem: Trying to be! I’m trying to be. But I remember the neighborhood, it kind of built up around your studio.

Richard: Even in the years, since you started coming, it was still becoming more and more gentrifying. Now it’s totally—

Faheem: Layers and layers—

Richard: Now it’s totally gentrified. Layers and layers of gentrification on top of gentrification. The Lill Street Studio…. There was an industrial building to the west, where now it’s townhomes. They sold their property and got a bigger building on Montrose and Ravenswood—

Faheem: Oh, so that’s the same thing? I never thought of that!

Richard: Lill Street decided not to change the name, because they’d been here for so long. Now they’re on Montrose and Ravenswood but they still call themselves Lill Street. [11]

Faheem: Still call themselves Lill street. I don’t why I really, I never made that connection. That’s not the same studio, who was the sculptor, who also used the bumpers and horses and did a lot of things—

Richard: John Kearney. [12]

Faheem: He’s not with Lill Street, but he had a space too.

Richard: He had a place on Grant Place, across the street from what was formerly Grant Memorial Hospital. Which has now been turned in to condominiums. He died a few years ago. Anyway, I think it was he and his wife who ended up owning the building, when they first started what they called a ‘contemporary art workshop.’ There were a couple of partners that John had. They either passed away or left, and he and his wife were left with the building. Running an art center and all. He was in his nineties when he died.

Faheem: They were a really nice couple. I was going to move into their studio. Because he was, he stopped working—

Richard: You were going to move into their studio?

Faheem: I was going to move into their studio. She was like, ‘Well, my husband worked in metal, you work in metal. Maybe you can just take over.’ But there was concern as people moved in, about the way that her husband was working and in the way that I was working at the time. They said, ‘Maybe the gasses…. Everyone is above it, so maybe we shouldn’t…. We moved all these people into this space, maybe that’s not a good idea…’

Faheem: I remember Eric Stephenson, Dave Noguchi, and John Mason. [13]These are some of the people that have worked with you in the space. Artists in their own right.

Richard: Yes.

Faheem: Talking about the space…you see the work that’s here. There was also stuff in the yard in the back. There were people not understanding why the metal was there. They got this new shiny home, and they’re, you know, ‘There’s that junk yard over there…’ and not understanding the context. But at this point, people seem to be really happy. Did you know that you are a marker on MapQuest?

Richard: Uh, I didn’t know that….

Faheem: It’s a sense of pride to have you in the neighborhood at this point.

Richard: You’ll have to tell the guy who moved in next door. It’s funny…these places change hands. The guy who bought the place originally, brought the property, which was another factory building going west here. It was one building but it took up three city lots. So there were three townhouses that were built there. And the guy who built them was actually living in the one that’s right next to my place. He ended up selling it. It’s been sold maybe two times now. And the current owner doesn’t like sitting on his patio looking over—

Faheem: ‘Obstructs the view.’

Richard: I’ve got scrap metal…

Faheem: I’d just assumed that people maybe kind of figured it out. But I guess it’s all about value.

Richard: I told him. But he still doesn’t like it. As a matter of fact, he called the building department, and said ‘Well this guy, he’s got all this stuff….’ So anyway, I’m dealing with that.

Faheem: I’d assumed that was done.

Richard: Well, people come and go.

Faheem: That’s right. It’s the same conversations over and over again right.

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I became interested because of artists that I saw. Julio Gonzalez, Picasso, David Smith. I became interested in working with metal.


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Asha: Since we’re in audio, can you both describe the materials that you work with, and the forms that you make out of those materials…

Faheem: I’ll go first. Originally, what drew me to Richard first, is that I was working with a lot of found steel. Assemblage. Doing a lot of figurative work. But over the years I started moving into wood and being a lot looser in the materials I use. More recently working with particle board, that you see in neighborhood board-ups. Found wood, out of dumpsters, and things along those lines. The funny thing is, Richard, I’ve finally got the studio that I wanted. I got all the equipment in the garage. It’s collapsible, everything is on wheels. But right now I’m not working a lot in metal. So my friends come over and use it, and I’m like ‘I finally got it, and now I’m over here doing something else!’ But, you know, I will come back to it. You always come back to your first loves…. Well at least in this case. Maybe you don’t always come back to your first loves! But I’ll come back to it. It will be similar, but different. I’m exploring right now.

Richard: I have, throughout my professional career, worked largely with metal. Some of the first works I did I combined wood and metal. And this goes back to the fifties into the sixties. I was very impressed as a young artist with what was relatively new and somewhat challenging at the time. Working directly with metal. Welding. Assembling metal parts into sculptures. As a matter of fact, while I was a student at the Art Institute, the Art Institute was where I got my artistic training. We were modeling in clay, using plaster, there was carving. I did just a bit of carving. It didn’t agree with me—or, I didn’t agree with carving.

I became interested because of artists that I saw. Julio Gonzalez, Picasso, David Smith.[14] I became interested in working with metal. Which I went on to do. In school at the time, in most art schools, most things were modeled or carved. And then most things that were modeled would be cast in bronze or some other material. There weren’t really facilities in the school for welding, sculpture. I was living at home and going to school. I was able to get a welding torch and a few tools. I started to make things in my parents’ basement. And then one thing to led to another, in terms of career development. But my medium has mostly been metal. Mostly direct metal. Direct welding. The fabricating of metal. Sometimes I’ve done some casting, but that may be fifteen to ten percent of my output.

Faheem: Bill Taylor, he was really proficient at both. Welded steel, but also carving. It’s just not something I ever…I just didn’t take to it. Something about the subtractive…. You know what I mean?

Richard: Yeah. Having one of those long pieces of stone and then taking things away from it.

Faheem: ‘It’s in there! You’ve just got to let it tell you what it wants to be!’

‘Yeah, I see it. But I just lopped off the leg! I wanted to kind of do this thing…but the grain doesn’t allow me to do it in the way that I want it to be done.’

Richard: It takes a different kind of temperament, I think.

Faheem: Yes.

Richard: Over the years I started working on a larger scale. I would get bigger pieces of metal. It’s not like if you wanted to make a big stone or wood piece, ‘Just go get a big tree….’ And well, it just seemed a material that was aligned with the times too. More industrial.

Faheem: It’s not as easy to come by these days. Now it’s valuable. I imagine back when you started, like tons of steel. You could kind of just go to a space and find it.

Richard: Well actually, you can now. As a matter of fact, the metals market, if you look at it from a commodities point of view, is depressed.

Faheem: That’s right—you don’t see as many cats walking around with shopping carts these days. Not much money in it.

Richard: Over the years it’s been interesting. Price fluxuations, and the fact that there’s a lot more competition with the metals industries. There are so many metal producing companies. Steel, bronze, all kinds of stuff here in America. Matter of fact, there was an article in yesterday’s or today’s paper about U.S. Steel, which used to be the largest steelmaker in the world. They had a plant out on south Chicago. Which is closed.

Faheem: Yeah. They’re not going to develop it.

Richard: Right. But they just announced they’re closing plants in Alabama and Texas, and three or four plants are closing.

Faheem: That’s going to devastate economies.

Richard: But certainly during this particular time—

Faheem: They had a big plant. South Shore? Right on the edge…Calumet?

Richard: Well it stretched from South Shore—

Faheem: It was huge.

Richard: They called it South Works. And now it’s a vacant area that the developer was trying—

Faheem: Trying. They pulled out on that.

Richard: They’re hoping the Obama Library might take place there. There’s actually a great view downtown from where that is.

Faheem: It’s an amazing plot of land. I mean, the potential of it. I think Marianno’s—

Richard: It was either Marianno’s or Whole Foods, had announced it was going. But not enough other people came on.[15]

Faheem: I’m doing a residency with a couple of collaborators at Calumet City this summer. And we’re going to really kind of explore that area. It’s one of the hot topics obviously, because it greatly impacts the community there. That if something does happen, it’s going to develop, you know… But whether the community that’s there actually benefits from that, I don’t know…

Richard: Which is always the case.

Faheem: Something is going to happen. ‘Land versus people.’ The land will greatly benefit. But I don’t know if the people there are going to benefit that much.

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…there’s a kind of a Midwestern edge to my way of looking at things.


Asha: Might you each talk about your first solo show, or maybe a solo show that meant a lot to you at some point?

Faheem: Maybe not the first show. But for me at the MCA, that’s a significant moment I’ll never forget. The first solo show is small…that kind of fades. But that moment where you’re like, ‘Man, this is a really big moment.’ [16]

Richard: Well I guess one that comes to mind is one I had in a New York Gallery, which is a gallery called the Allen Gallery. It was in 1958, yes 58, in November or something like that. It was my introduction to the Art World and it was a successful show. I didn’t go to it because I’d just been drafted into the army. I got an extension, a deferral, for a few months so I could finish the work for the show. The gallery owner wrote my draft board.

Faheem: That’s all we need! We just need gallery owners.

Richard: The show was a success, and made me even more anxious to get out of the army.

Faheem: How long were you in the army?

Richard: Two years. If you’re drafted, it’s generally a two-year period.

Faheem: What did you do?

Richard: I ended up spending most of my time at Brook Army Medical Center, where I went for basic training. [17]I got a job as an army artist, so doing a lot of things. Teaching art classes. Painting signs.

Faheem: Do you still have any of those things?

Richard: No. It wasn’t anything worth keeping. It was just assignments. They’d say, ‘Go here, do this…’

Faheem: The definition of artist is very different in that space than it is in—

Richard: Well it depends where. On this base it was…well, not a lot to say about it. It was over. Everything ends up being over sooner or later. Two years, it went by fast enough.

Faheem: My first solo show was here in Chicago. My literal first solo show was a small space in the Harold Washington Cultural Center that just recently was built on 47th and King. It was a small gallery. I learned a lot from that show. I had these still figures. I was doing my figurative work, and it was interesting. It was really about the notion of un-valuable materials. I was thinking a lot about the men with the carts and the metal. And how that same metal is seen as not valuable. But then I would take that metal and make something that everyone would crowd around. Almost like winged figures. I hung them from the ceiling. I was really excited about these special hooks that could go in and pop out. And they were really big. Fifty pounds, one hundred. And you actually put them in drywall. People loved it. But no one bought anything. And later on I figured out that people…people loved to come visit it, but people don’t necessary want hanging steel, like ‘death from above,’ over them and their children’s heads. So that was my first solo show. And in a lot of ways my launch into doing art fulltime. Eventually I went back and I started doing some other things. But that was my first show. It was at a gallery called Still Life, Chicago, that burned down eventually.

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There were a number of sculptors in Chicago who had started to work with metal. You’d get to know one another, be in exhibitions. You’d get to know one another just like we got to know one another. 


 

Asha: For both of you, how has where you’re from shaped your work? Geographically, and also the time periods in which you began forming your practice.

Richard: I was born in and mostly raised in Chicago. Born in 1935. So growing up…second World War, its aftermath. Korean War. Vietnam War. Civil Rights Movement. As a kid, you’re just growing up. But parents and relatives are affected by it more because they are adults. My family did spend some time in Galesburg, Illinois. It’s an area near the Iowa border, where my mother grew up. Galesburg was a town near Monmouth, where she grew up. We had relatives there in a variety of towns in the area. So anyway, we lived there for a few years, and there’s a kind of a Midwestern edge to my way of looking at things.

Faheem: There’s the picture of you standing, when you were still in high school or maybe college, in that scrapyard, on the south side.

Richard: No the scrapyard—

Faheem: Really powerful brother! You know, the bumper in the hand man—

[laughing]

Richard: By that time, I had a studio which was on Cleveland, 1503 N Cleveland. The diving line from Old Town was North Avenue, so just south of North Avenue. And then that scrapyard was on the corner of Sheffield and Clyborn. Where there’s now this big shopping center. And so I grew up on the South Side. We lived in Woodlawn and then we were there a few years. Englewood. And then we went to Galesburg. And then back to Englewood. So my growing up was in Englewood. Went to Englewood High School. And then when I came back from the army I ended up getting a place on the North Side. First a place that I rented. There used to be an art center, called 414 Art Workshop, on State. On 412 N State Street, close to the corner of Hubbard. A number of artists lived in that area and further north. Then I was able to buy the building on Cleveland, where I was for a number of years before coming to this place. It just happened that not all that far away on Clyborn and Sheffield was a scrapyard, where that picture was taken.

But I’d go all over the place. There were a number of sculptors in Chicago who had started to work with metal. You’d get to know one another, be in exhibitions. You’d get to know one another just like we got to know one another. You’d see somebody doing what you’re doing. But anyway, they’d say, ‘Oh, I got this over there…’ So you’d go take a look. There were different scrap yards. Some on the south side, near the U.S. Steel place that we were talking about. There was a whole lot of metal around there. And there were metal facilities where a lot of people that collected scrap metal would sell the scrap. And they’d put it all together and sell it and have tons of stuff. There was a lot of that on the south side, the far south side. But anyway, there were these artists. An artist named Ray Fink. Another artist named Cosmo Campoli, who didn’t do that much welding. He worked with Kearney, and they together were involved with the Contemporary Art Workshop.[18] There was Joe Gatto, Ray Fink, Harry Boris. So anyway, Chicago as it was at the time offered a lot of possibilities.

Another thing was there were a lot of artists from other places that had come here, because of the second World War. All the way from artists who’d been at the Bauhaus, to artists who were students while I was a student at the Art Institute. They had been going to art school, and had to leave because of the war. As well as some people who were my teachers. So it was actually kind of international environment.

Faheem: The impact of the war on Chicago as a big city… I always think about the Bauhaus and others, because of my relationship with the South Side Community Art Center, and the design of it.[19] I think we think about these things as kind of microscopic bubbles, like they actually don’t intersect. Of course they’re moving through the city. Of course they’re touching creatives in all these overlaps in conversations and meetings.

Richard: Two people that were influential in terms of being sculpture teachers here were Jews from Europe. One from Germany, one from Austria. They wouldn’t have been here except that—

Faheem: The war.

Richard: Had to get out of Dodge.

Faheem: So thinking about time, one of the first things I asked Richard when we sat down when I first met him…I was in this moment coming out of school, and thinking about the notion of an artist that is black, and black artists. I asked Richard, ‘How did you become an artist?’ Because I felt like, at the time, when I walked into a room my race walked in before I did and there were all these things put on me. And I asked him this question and he said to me—and I don’t know if you remember this— but it was really profound. He said, ‘Well what you’ve got to understand is when I started doing this there were no black artists.’ They’re weren’t called ‘black’ artists. They were called something else. And black as a term, ‘black is beautiful’ came out in the sixties. So what I got from that, at the end of it, is the notion that, ‘You just need to make some art. Keep making. Just keep making.’ And you also said this thing about a fruit stand. ‘If you’re selling oranges on the side of the road and you do it long enough, eventually you’ll have a fruit stand.’ You just keep making. You just keep making and producing and going into your studio. You’re always producing. You’re always working. At your core, you need to be making. And that was something I really took to heart. The things we’re concerned with now, forty years from now, are going to shift.

Richard: You know, times keep changing. There’s what you might call, ‘art as product.’ So whether you’ve got a fruit stand or a sculpture studio… More and more there are careers in art that are more idea based. And I don’t know how to do this, but there are ways of packing ideas and selling them. You see that more and more. And more and more among African American and black artists.

We’re at a time now when the art world is changing, and you see articles all the time about it. About a recognition world wide of the various contributions that non-European, non-Western people have made to the arts. Another way of looking back at what used to be an ethnographic view and reduction of various people. It’s an interesting challenge and opportunity, to see where African American, black, whatever…there’s this word that comes to mind. ‘Indigenous’ African American artists. [laughing] Because there are so many immigrants from Africa that are then ‘African American.’ Just like there are Polish American, Italian American…had their roots somewhere else. So people like myself, and I don’t know about your genealogy—

Faheem: ‘I was born in Detroit!’ [laughing]

Richard: So somebody who was born in Accra, he’d say, ‘Why you calling yourself an African American? You were born in Detroit.’

Faheem: So in this other show that I’m doing, it’s complex. Sometimes there’s this simplification… And it’s like, ‘Oh. Black!’ It’s a very complex onion. It’s a lot of different peels. But yes, it’s an interesting moment.

For me, being trained in a space very much attached to a material. And then this other space of running the South Side Community Art Center. Figuratively, I always have two edges. Richard, and Margaret Burroughs. [20]One, a profound sculptor. Really leads the way through the forms he makes. And I learned in that sort of way, of just being here. Margaret Burroughs who was an artist, but maybe wasn’t renowned as an artist. It was about institutions and dedication to educating in this other sort of way. So I feel like these are the two bearings that I have. To lead these institutions I care about, on one hand. On the other hand, I’m a sculptor. I need my sculpture. I want to create. So these were two very significant parts of my work.

 
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For me at the MCA, that’s a significant moment I’ll never forget.


 –

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Figuratively, I always have two edges. Richard, and Margaret Burroughs. One, a profound sculptor. Really leads the way through the forms he makes. And I learned in that sort of way, of just being here. Margaret Burroughs who was an artist, but maybe wasn’t renowned as an artist. It was about institutions and dedication to educating in this other sort of way.


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I was born in Chicago. Moved away when I was two. Went to the South where my father was a politician and came from a family of politicians in North Carolina specifically.


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I believe there are artists that really want to be artists…and then there are artists who ‘really would like to be’ artists.


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Faheem: I’m from North Carolina. I was born in Chicago. Moved away when I was two. Went to the South where my father was a politician and came from a family of politicians in North Carolina specifically.

Richard: Whereabouts in North Carolina?

Faheem: Raleigh. The Lightner family. Clarence Lightner was the first black mayor of Raleigh. [21]My father grew up under him in their funeral parlor in Raleigh. So it’s a well-known family. He later moved to Charlotte and then eventually became a politician in his own right. My mother is a social worker, from Minnesota. When my parents separated, she went back to Minnesota and ran a chemical abuse agency. So politics and social work…and then I’m an artist. I said, ‘I’m going to go to Howard and be an artist.’ I didn’t want to touch those worlds. Now a lot of the work that I do is very much connected to those things as well.

I also came back to Chicago, for love, and ended up living in South Shore four blocks away from the house where my parents lived and I was conceived. Same street. So coincidence, but kismet at the same time.

So time and space… I think I talk about being trained one way at Howard. It was very physical. My time in Chicago going back to grad school was very different. It was more obviously conceptual—what Richard was kind of alluding to a little bit. A merger of those two things. I had maybe a kind of a rebirth in Chicago in a way.

We live in this time where, it’s almost the expectation that artists are academics. And maybe that’s a Chicago thing, because of our artists’ relationships to academic spaces. The artists that have stayed around have moved into an academic setting. Or maybe that’s just what I lean to because I wear those dual hats. Well, Richard, I feel like you wear one hat.

Richard: I wear one hat?

Faheem: You’re a sculptor. And you’ve been very clear… ‘That’s all great, but I’m about to get this grinder… I’m going to work.’ Right out of school you were running. And you’ve been running ever since. Building and making. There’s no other sculptor on the planet that I feel has more work and more presence. Your sculpture is always in the background, no matter where I turn. I was driving out in some south suburb—[laughter]

Richard: I appreciate what you’ve said.

Faheem: A lot of other artists, especially in Chicago, have to wear—just to eat— multiple hats. ‘I got to do this, I got to do that. Just so I can eat, and I can make my work.’ I imagine that it was like that when you were in school?

Richard: No because for one thing, it didn’t cost as much to go to school. And then also, I believe there are artists that really want to be artists…and then there are artists who ‘really would like to be’ artists.

I went to school with, somebody like say Red Grooms, or Benny Andrews.[22] Just take the two of them. They didn’t even finish school. They decided they were going to go to New York, because that’s where it was happening. If you wanted to have a career in the arts, that’s where you’d go. They didn’t go there because they had a job or a gallery. They decided they were going to get in to whatever was going on. Both of them had careers as artists. They did other things, but they exhibited in galleries, and had work all over in museum collections. Or in the case of Red Grooms, he does commissions of one kind or another. What I mean is, over time…there are a lot more people that have chosen various kinds of art careers. Within the population, the percentage of people who have gone to art schools. And there are a lot more art schools than there were.

Faheem: That’s the truth.

Richard: One of the things when we think about art is, you can get an MFA, but there are no minimum requirements, an actual certification process for being an artist. It’s not like where you take certain kinds of courses if you’re more interested in accounting, and then there are various things you have to pass to be certified. So those two guys came to mind. Red Grooms, a white guy from the south.

 –
img_20160319_141949

He said, ‘Well what you’ve got to understand is when I started doing this there were no black artists.’ They’re weren’t called ‘black’ artists. They were called something else.


 –

Richard: I think it’s interesting, in all the art history we would read…there would be a chapter on Asian art. But it’s written by somebody who’s European or who’s from a ‘Western’ point of view.

Faheem: Almost like a translation…

Richard: And then of course you don’t have the background or the context, like somebody who’s writing about Northern Italian art and either is Northern Italian or somebody who spent a lot of time there in Italy and the generation before them. It’ll be interesting when a lot of people have…well it’s another aspect of globalization. People come here…there’s a lot of meaning for the uses and what’s defined as art. In a way, the thought I grew up with, as a student, going to museums…the way things were placed. You know the art from Western Europe, from the Renaissance, and all that kind of stuff. And then the other arts are off to the side you know.

Faheem: Those special rooms.

Richard: I think that’d be interesting, that one could look at the different plans that showed the galleries of, say, the Art Institute from 1880 till now. And so you walk in, and there’s the galleries over here. And then you go across the tracks and down, and there’s some Asian art over here.

Faheem: Real estate. Value based on real estate. How much time is—

Richard: There’s the Gold Coast!

Faheem: Exactly. Like red-lining in the museum.

[laughing]

Faheem: So I have something for you.

Richard: He’s always bringing things.

Faheem: This is something I’m working on. Really having fun stepping into some different things. This is from my sketchbook. It started out as me trying to learn Margaret Burroughs’ signature.

Richard: Oh come on!

Faheem: So it started out as that…but now it’s that signature as a brush stroke. This is a series of drawings that I’m doing. And it’s funny, they’re called ‘legacy signatures.’ So it’s the notion of that…and then it disappears. The earlier ones are all time-based. I was being infatuated with something. But I was also—I have horrible handwriting.

Richard: You have horrible handwriting, but as a drawing—

Faheem: You got it!

Richard: And that says something about art. The transformation.

Faheem: And then kind of embodying her actual signature too. [24]

Richard: In terms of the way she would form…you worked at it. Interesting. It’s interesting to me. I’ll show you something on the way out. Last weekend I went to Philadelphia to see the Norman Lewis show.[25] And one of the fascinating things about it was, there were a lot of drawings of his that I’d never known. In this retrospective. You tend to see certain things over and over again, a catalogue or survey. You know, that piece that gets shown over and over.

Faheem: Yeah. But the other stuff….

Richard: And there’s a ruminating thing, a line that…and it’s just interesting. What you’re doing recalls.

Faheem: These are things that I’ve decided to spend more time with. Thinking, ‘Let me spend a little time, and see how I can do this small part of a much bigger kind of thing.’

Richard: Cool.

END

 –


original questions by Asha Veal Brisebois

1) How do you two know one another?
2) How did you become aware of one another’s work?
3) Faheem, how has Mr. Hunt’s work and practice influenced you?
4) Mr. Hunt, can you tell us about your history in the Lill Street building? You’ve been here for over 40 years, yes? It’s a former power station?
5) Will you each tell us a bit about your practices as sculptors?
6) Will you describe the materials you work with?
7) Will you describe the titles you give your work?
8) What is your process for building?
9) What do you see as the role of your work as public art? How do you hope the public interacts with it?
10) What was your time in art school like? At SAIC and Howard, respectively?
11) Will you each tell us about your first public solo show?
12) How has where you’re from shaped your practice? Chicago… The American South and Midwest.
13) What is the legacy that you wish to give to Chicago?
14) How has your work responded over time politically?


[1] “Established in 1867, Howard University is a federally chartered, private, doctoral university, classified as a high research activity institution.” Howard is one of America’s historically black colleges and universities. https://www2.howard.edu/

[2] James King, a metal sculptor, also attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, dates unknown. His public work acquired for the Howard University campus is catalogued on the following we source: https://www.howard.edu/library/imagesofthecapstone/Lady_Fortitude.htm

It’s interesting to be aware of and observe the collection of black art by African American artists on the HBCU campus Howard. Considering the black academic institution as a site of cultural and art preservation in American and black American heritage, much in the way that museums and sculpture gardens function.

Additionally, although certainly not art history majors, I think of the art historical education that the students receive and may be inspired to investigate further by virtue of being on campus.

[3] Mel Edwards.  http://www.alexandergray.com/artists/melvin-edwards

According to his bio at Alexander Gray Gallery, Mel Edwards was the first black American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum (1970)

It must be stated that thorough this project on Richard Hunt, I’ve come to look up and become acquainted with several other of his contemporary sculptors, which has been quite unexpected and fascinating, and something I am very grateful for.

[4] “A Bridge Across and Beyond” http://richardhunt.us/?avada_portfolio=a-bridge-across-and-beyond

[5] “Freedmen’s Column” http://richardhunt.us/?avada_portfolio=freedmens-column

[6] William Taylor. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=william-taylor&pid=139780060

According to his obituary, Bill Taylor was an art professor as well as an artist-in-residence at Howard University

[7] “Symbiosis” (also known as “Bison”  https://www.howard.edu/library/imagesofthecapstone/Bison.htm

[8] Alpha Phi Alpha, is over 100 years old as an organization and was the first established collegiate fraternity for African Americans in the country.

[9] Hobart Taylor Junior http://www.nytimes.com/1981/04/04/obituaries/hobart-taylor-jr-60-past-trade-bank-head-and-law-firm-partner.html

According to his obituary in The New York Times, Hobart Taylor Jr. did attend Howard University of a Master’s Degree.

The University of Michigan maintains an archival collection of “The Hobart Taylor Jr. Papers, 1961-1981.” In the description to that archive, Hobart is written as: Attorney and businessman, associate counsel to President Lyndon Johnson, later director of the Export-Import Bank; correspondence, speeches, and oral history interviews; files relating to his work with Plans for Progress, a voluntary association of business and industry working to promote equal employment opportunities; his work on the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, the NAACP, the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Advisory Committee for Minority Affairs; topical files relating to Democratic politics in the 1960s, and his work with Johnson and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey; and photographs

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhlead/umich-bhl-85542?view=text

[10] Jonquil Park, located on the three-way intersection of Lill Street, Sheffield, and Lincoln Avenue.

[11] When it was located down the street from Mr. Hunt’s studio, Lill Street Studio existed in a renovated horse barn. http://lillstreet.com/aboutus

[12] John Kearney. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/chi-john-kearney-obituary-20140811-story.html

Sculptor John Kearney’s work is also visible in the Lincoln park neighborhood parks, most notably the figures in Oz Park, located on Larabee and Lincoln.

It’s interesting to think about the type of artist community that used to exist in Mr. Hunt’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and has since moved on or been pushed out. He is perhaps a literal ‘last man standing.’

[13] Eric Stephenson. http://www.sculpture.org/portfolio/sculptorPage.php?sculptor_id=1003428

David Noguchi http://davidnoguchi.com/

John Mason

[14] Julio Gonzalez. http://www.lemonde.fr/culture/article/2007/07/04/julio-gonzalez-la-revolution-du-fer_931469_3246.html

David Smith. http://www.davidsmithestate.org/

[15] Former Mariano’s plan to acquire U.S. Steel land in Chicago: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-marianos-new-store-south-chicago-20140709-story.html

[16] Faheem Majeed, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago 2015: https://mcachicago.org/Exhibitions/2015/Faheem-Majeed

Incidentally, this is the first museum exhibition that my grandmother, who happened to be in town visiting, has ever seen. I took her and mother!

[17] Brook Army Medical Center, San Antonio.

[18] Joseph Gatto. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-artists-remember-joseph-gatto-20131114-story.html

Ray Fink. http://redmodernfurniture.com/2014/02/10/ray-fink-wood-panel/

Cosmo Campoli. http://smartmuseum.uchicago.edu/blog/the-roster-cosmo-campoli/

Contemporary Art Workshop (archive at the Chicago History Museum) http://chsmedia.org/media/fa/fa/M-C/ContemporaryAW-inv.htm

[19] South Side Community Art Center. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/73.html

Bauhaus http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/729

[20] Dr. Margaret Taylor Burroughs, a Chicago icon and one of the lead founders of the DuSable Museum of African American History. ‘Dr. B’ is yet another graduate of SAIC, in art and art education.  http://www.artic.edu/aic/resources/resource/982

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/arts/28burroughs.html?_r=0

[21] Clarence Lightner.  http://www.blackpast.org/aah/lightner-clarence-everett-1921-2002

[22] Red Grooms. http://www.pbs.org/hanshofmann/red_grooms_001.html

Benny Andrews. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/benny-andrews-1930-2006

[23] Ben Fuqua, classmate.

[24] Faheem Majeed, performance on legacy and Dr. Burroughs’s signature in Chicago 2015: https://www.facebook.com/events/1689461057965475/

[25] Norman Lewis.  https://www.pafa.org/normanlewis

  • with Asha Veal Brisebois

    Richard Hunt:
    http://richardhunt.us/

    Faheem Majeed:
    http://www.faheemmajeed.com/

    Asha Veal Brisebois:
    http://www.ashavealb.com/