The Ferocious Act of Drawing

AN explosion may not be a destructive force. We talk without dismay of an explosion of color. An egg breaks to release the chick into free movement; a seed pod may violently burst to spread its seeds far and wide. Fireworks, exploding with momentous but harmless grace in the black expanse, merely tickle our fancy.

Scottish-born artist Margaret Hunter's paintings, sculptures, and drawings are certainly not frivolous pyrotechnics. But there is often an explosiveness in them.

In music it might be called "attack" or "brio." In visual art, it has in our century been called Expressionism - though that word means more than something soley gestural or stylistic. It carries with it undertones of intensely felt emotion, a kind of primeval, brutish directness.

In Hunter's case, unspecified forms or directions, fraught with private meaning, sometimes break out expansively from a figure. More geometrically (and more three dimensionally sculptural), at other times, these widening movements coalesce into cones.

Hunter's works, particularly her drawings, storm the viewer into empathy with the exhilaratingly ferocious act of drawing. In her hands, pastel, the brittle colored chalk that in the past has been too exclusively associated with sweet delicacy and pretty elegance of touch, is a tool nearer to a chisel or gouge for carving or engraving wood. It is pushed strongly against the paper surface as if she were digging into it. Such ungentle working of pastel deposits its own sort of mark, dusty, hard-textured, s cratchy like the bow-scraping of a violin. The dust inevitably coats her fingers, and in "Drawing IX" her finger prints are dispersed throughout the background space of the white paper.

Another expressionistic user of pastel springs to mind here, and not surprsingly she, like Hunter, is a notable figure in Scottish art: Joan Eardley. In "Drawing IX," it's clear that Hunter has looked at Eardley. The graffiti-like figure is reminiscent of Eardley's drawings of Glasgow street urchins. And the color language is similar - rust, brown, black and Prussian blue impinging on ultramarine.

But Hunter is a more conceptual artist than Eardley, and her figures consciously relate to another tradition. At first sight you might think that her primitive figures, scratched into life like a child's scribble, are a continuation of the post-war "art brut" favored by Jean Dubuffet and his friends. This "outsider art," Dubuffet believed, tapped resources of innate invention instead of bogging down in the "chameleon or parrot-like processes" of so much self-conscious art.

But it seems that Hunter has also found a way through to this kind of instinctual art-making via certain aspects of German art, recent and older. She divides her time between Scotland and Berlin. In the German city, she worked under the guidance of Georg Baselitz in 1985 and `86. Baselitz himself has been much influenced by primitive art, by a particularly rough kind of African sculpture. And his work also relates to Die Brucke, the group of Expressionists who stirred up German art before World War I.

Hunter has found the ethnographic collections in Berlin's museums stimulating. Her figures show her awareness of the ritual potency of tribal fetishes. She has herself described her work as based on her experiences including her "lifestyle divided between Scotland and Berlin, a city on the front line of change in the merging of East and West." Her images contain an energy that denotes the positive power in change as well as its disruptions, its expanding openness as well as its explosions.

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