George Hunter is a prolific local artist who has his brushes in all kinds of pots from photography to music. However, its painting where his passions lie, and in July 2014 one of his pieces was featured on the side of the American Eagle Outfitters building in Times Square, New York City! I sat down with him in the lovely Tea Sutra to find out what led to this fantastic exposure and success. Check out more of George's work at his website.
I was born and bred in Ryton. I’ve never left the North East, even if I was a millionaire, I would still have a house here. I worked as a computer operator in Newcastle in the ‘60’s. I did an Open University course and then I got made redundant so I went to Newcastle University to study Psychology, Plant Biology and Zoology. So I was studying Animal & Insect Physiology at the Open University and Zoology at Newcastle University alongside each other, so as you can see I was trying to keep my study frames similar. My dissertation was on the possibility of endothermy in dinosaurs.
Where does the interest in art fit into all this?
I suppose it started when I was about 29 when I was at the Open University. I had a lot of spare time on my hands and my mum bought me a paint by numbers set. It was of the four seasons; Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. I did three of them and I got to the fourth and I was bored. So I mixed the colours up a bit and thought I’d play with it, painting the snow blue, things like that. When I was done I still had these nice pots of paint left over. I used to go to Leonard Cohen parties, and I used to say to people ‘its not depressive, its interesting’. I thought to myself, I’m sure I’d be able to paint the cover of Leonard Cohen’s first album. After doing a few bits and pieces I stopped as I started at Newcastle University full time.
Around this time, I sent off for a glass engraving kit but I hated the sound of the glass scraping so I gave that up quick though I’ve still got the stuff somewhere. So I then went on to painting on glass. I started doing some Chinese and Japanese inspired paintings on glass. I was then at University for 5 years. When that finished I got a job at a local hospital, where I still work now, and found I had free time again. I was working with oils, which was a nightmare, and moved onto acrylics as you can be creative with it if you make a mistake rather than start again.
What leads us from messing around with acrylics to the American Eagle building in Times Square?
I was showing my stuff at the Art Works which used to be opposite the Tanner’s which went bust (Ed: Now Small Change Vintage Shop) and I started discovering all these online galleries. I found one based in New York called See Me and started putting stuff up on there. They have various talent contests where you put something up and if you get enough votes it may be featured in a show. The first one I got through to was featured on a skyscraper in Queens, where the gallery is. With regards to the American Eagle building in Times Square, if you got 500 votes you were featured as part of a collage. However, if you managed to get 1000 votes, you’re entire image would be featured on the side of the building. With the help of my fabulous Twitter followers, I managed to get 1000 votes!
What turns you on culturally?
A lot of different things. Variety and novelty. Honestly, I can be walking down the street and I’ll think ‘Oh, I like that shape’ and I’ll store it in my head. I was walking past my variety of instruments at home the other day and they looked like they were arranged in a certain way, so I did a bit more arranging, took a photograph and I call it my “Instruments of Torture”, because if they’re not played right, it can be torture.
Is there a tune that gets you out of bed in the morning?
I love Los Calchakis. I’ve got about 30 albums of theirs. I always have music playing when I’m painting.
What sort of things do you have on?
I usually have the radio on because I’ve gone through most of my albums numerous times. And if the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ comes on I’ll be dancing around the room. Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, stuff like that.
Is there a life-changing read or movie?
I went to see ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ about 10 times when it came out in 1969. Another film I really like is ‘The River’ by Jean Renoir, the painter Renoir’s son. He only made about half a dozen films, but when you look at his work you can tell he’s the son of a painter because the colours are so beautiful.
I just finished ‘The Secret Garden’ yesterday, and I thought it was such a lovely book. A book that I really like and have read twice is by Herman Hesse called ‘The Glass Bead Game’. Theres so much going on in it, its amazing. I’m currently writing a book based around historical fiction, but more on that later.