Alexis Hunter

1948Auckland, New Zealand | 2014London, England
Alexis Hunter — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Alexis Hunter with paintings from The Object Series in her Hoxton Studio, 1975

New Zealand photographer and painter.

Alexis Hunter graduated from the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland in 1969. From 1972 she was based in London but often returned to and exhibited in New Zealand. In the 1970s A. Hunter was at the forefront of the women’s art movement in Britain and was connected to feminist art organisations including the Women’s Workshop of the Artists’ Union and the Women’s Free Arts Alliance. She won early recognition for her overtly feminist photo-narratives. Many of these feature women’s beautifully manicured hands (often the artist’s own) engaged in a variety of actions. She deliberately contrasted the look of glamorous advertising photography with unsettling images of destruction, grime and danger.  In Approach to Fear XIII: Pain – Destruction of Cause (1977) a woman sets fire to a high-heeled silver shoe, while in Approach to Fear II: Taboo – Demystify (1976) the hands caress and probe parts of an engine, becoming increasingly dirty in the process. Dialogue with a Rapist (1978) drew on A. Hunter’s own experience of talking a black would-be rapist out of attacking her by pointing out that his actions could cause political danger to his people. Later, with heightened sensitivity to racism, the politics of that work were criticised, for instance in a review of the group show Taking Matters into our own Hands in Frieze, in April 2013.

Increasingly A. Hunter combined drawing, painting and colour photocopies in her photo-narratives and in the early 1980s she returned to painting. She felt the need to move on from trying to “educate” people about feminist issues towards a deeper expression of herself. In contrast to her early sharply realist paintings of contemporary life, these works are, stylistically and in their exploration of emotion, allied to Neo-Expressionism but remain underpinned by A. Hunter’s feminist politics. In the series An Artist Looking for Her Muse (1982) and related works the naked woman is the artist, not the muse; her muse is a priapic, demonic figure who, according to the artist, represents the animus, bestiality and subversion. The relationship between the two is depicted as vexed, shifting and complex. Series such as Passionate Instincts (1980s) and Conflicts of the Psyche (1980s) with their savage, fantastical animals, often locked in combat, also draw on concepts of oppositional forces in the psyche. They are metaphors for personal struggle with conflicting thoughts, feelings and desires and also, as she said, “psychological conflict in the modern world”, leading to war and environmental damage. She also addressed those issues in a number of landscape paintings which invoked sites of power and memory. A. Hunter later returned to photography, recording street demonstrations by Iranian women and the Stuckists, a radical group of artists.

A. Hunter married Baxter Mitchell in 1986; together they owned The Falcon, a pub in north London that was an important indie music venue. She died of motor neuron disease in 2014 aged 65. Solo exhibitions include Approaches to Fear at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, in 1978 and Alexis Hunter: Fears/Dreams/Desires: A Survey Exhibition, 1976-1988 at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1989. Her work is held in major public collections including Tate Modern, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Priscilla Pitts

Publication made in partnership with Contemporary HUM, with funding from Creative New Zealand.
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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