Sometimes life throws a wrench into our comfy plans and we’re faced with some big questions. As an artist, the question often is – do I quit and accept the defeat? Or, do I rise up triumphantly and make something beautiful to recapture this moment? Anthony Hurd is an artist that has learned to embrace the surprises in life as well as in his work, creating images that seem to arrive to us from some distant land. He depicts psychedelic landscapes of perilous beauty.
From his studio in the southwest plains of Texas, Hurd is currently busy creating works from a source of “dark optimism.” His free-flowing process reflects the unfettered nature of the work he creates. In the exclusive interview below, Hurd discusses the evolution of his process and the difficulties he has faced in his journey.
Photos by Ben Aqua.
Tell us a little about yourself if you wouldn’t mind please. You’ve been creating art for a while now, but this is the first time in recent history that you’ve really concentrated on producing paintings with such vivid and powerful effect – when did you step into this direction or decision? How did this all come about?
All these recent works have come from a few recent events. They are partially a combination of elements I’ve been working towards for years, mixed with various experiments going on along side of my previous works. My work was previously “organic” looking in terms of its fluidity but really structured in its process. I started to feel like it was work rather than enjoyment. So I sought to change that by experimenting with a loosened-up, more improvised direction.
That’s how I got here stylistically, but subject wise is a different story. My life got turned upside down a little over a year ago. It got dark, and dreary. I lost a lot of what I thought I enjoyed in my life. Without going into all the details, almost everything in my day-to-day life changed nearly overnight. Including my location. I went from the beautiful red rocks of northern Arizona to the flat endless horizon of southern Texas, in a small ranching town about 45 minutes from the next decent-sized town. Throughout all the internal and external changes, my view on art changed completely and my reason for doing it did as well. From something I really loved doing, to something I truly felt I had to do. Not the “had to do it” because I was so inspired, but because I felt like I had nothing else. I truly needed it for my own sanity. This is where the new landscapes came into play. I missed the mountains shadows I use to live in, the trails and back road. I missed my old life and the work became an expression of that. The loss I felt, the mountains I missed, the waters that I felt were rising up around me, and the destruction that I felt was ripping me apart. But then there was color. The color is the hope, it’s the light that comes through the darkness. It’s the optimism and joy showing itself through even the darkest of moments. All this is why I had named my recent group of small works “Dark Optimism”.
How much planning or preliminary thought goes into each painting? Do you sketch intensely, or is the drawing or sketching element integral to finding a jumping off point to your work?
There is no one method really. Though I rarely sketch something out first, I will occasionally lay some rough line down on the prepped boards before jumping in. Oftentimes I just throw down colors and strokes and see what speaks to me. Other times I have a rough compositional idea but in general it’s all very much based on the whim of the moment. I guess you could call it a mental sketch of sorts, I put a lot of thought into each piece along the way. I have learned, at least for myself that going with the moment is hugely satisfying and can be a beautiful thing, and often trying.
How important are materials or specific media to your process? Do you think that you would create the same kinds of works with a different medium or even in a different location?
I guess my technical approach is slightly different between mediums and materials. I’ve been primarily working with acrylics, and I prefer wood for small to medium pieces, and canvas for larger pieces. They all have their pros and cons. In terms of location, it’s an interesting question. I’ve moved around a bit, 5 locations in the last 8 years. Change in general opens doors for me, gets me out of the routine, and puts me in a new headspace. Sometimes a good one, sometimes bad, but always new. Sometimes there’s new stylistic directions or new iconic references. It’s been interesting how many locations influence me more after having left them, rather than while in them. I guess it’s that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone gibberish.. haha
What have you learned so far in your moments creating? Do you find out about yourself, the world around you, or just visual opportunities while you are making a new piece, a new painting?
I’ve learned so much from painting that I wouldn’t have expected. I’ve been meditating for about 10 years now, and painting is the closest I come to that space outside of the actual act of meditation. I just feel super centered, and in the moment. Painting teaches me patience, it’s taught me to think differently about my general approach to the world as well. Super strange to think about it on that level but it’s true. If I don’t like something in a painting, I just need to step back and approach it with fresh eye. That process of stepping back really helped me be less reactionary in my life. Not to get caught up in the story of what I think is happening to me. If I look at life like it’s picture I’m standing outside of, and that I can influence, it’s not a personal threat, it’s temporal, ever changing, and just another act of creation. I feel pretty blessed that painting is a regular reminder of such things.
It’s hard to really relay the colorful personality of the person behind the work without sharing a moment or two from your life. Would you be able to tell us a story that you’ve lived? Something that affected you or inspired you in your creative life?
I grew up dirt poor, on foot stamps and SSI, in a broken home, with a parent dealing with substance abuse. My brother had Tourettes syndrome (which no one understood back then and most parents acted like it was contagious), and a sister with Cystic Fibrosis. I survived a good amount of bullying, ultimately to kind of become one for a short amount of time out of necessity to stand up for my friends and family. I went to jail for a few days at 17 and immediately changed everything in my life. I started a straight edge hardcore music and skateboarding zine with a buddy. I was in a couple bands playing bass. I had a small clothing line selling at some local skate shops.
I came out of the closet at 19, by the time I was 21 I knew more people who had passed away from AIDS than my combined years of age. I skated like a mad man and had a million awesome memories with it. I managed a gay bathhouse. I drank away my sorrows. I met the love of my life. I was a partner in 2 successful design firms in LA. I burned a lot of bridges being a young, defensive, and insecure prick. I built a lot of new ones by realizing my errors and growing as a person. I lost my house when the economy dropped. I lost my sister 8 years ago to CF. I’ve had a gun pointed at me on several occasions.
I’ve sat alone in the beauty of some of natures most beautiful spots. I’ve laughed my ass off for hours until my face hurt for days. I cried for many hours, for many reasons, on many occasions. But honesty after all this and all the stories that fill in the dots between these events I am so super blessed. I sure did choose one hell of a hard ride but the rewards have been spectacular. The lessons are life changing, and the friends and loved ones I’ve met along the way are priceless gems I wouldn’t trade for anything.
That’s quite an intense road already, and I’m sure it’s made a huge impact on your work as a whole. About your paintings – do you feel that these works are individual moments or that they are a part of something larger, some group of works or ideas that belong to a body of specific works?
Right now it feels like a body of work — something that’s building. It’s one story for me. It’s a redemptive, aspiring, connected story of building everything back up after it’s all fallen apart. It says that it’s OK that you were crying. It’s cool that you kind of freaked out, we get it, we still love you. There is no one thing that is the end — nothing is ever over. It’s one story but it’s a huge narrative of self-acceptance and discovery. Allowing yourself to fail isn’t a bad thing, the world moves on. Love yourself, and love others because everything else can be taken away at any time.
Most of your time has been spent over the last years working as a creative director and designer, but you’ve turned a corner and are now more focused on fine art pursuits. With this new direction or focus in life, do you feel your paintings have a definite narrative or driving factor behind their insistence on being created that you can pinpoint?
The one thing that has never changed about my work is that it always revolves around a greater connection to a world beyond our comprehension. It’s always an unanswerable question for me. I paint about my views on our connection to each other, to nature, to spirit, to the soul. But they are always hanging questions, unanswered, lingering because I cannot in good consciousness use the word “know” these days. I have a feeling about what might be, but the older I get, the less I believe I truly know or really even need to know.
How freely do you allow images to appear or be incorporated? Are there any decisions that you shy away from creatively or edit from the process?
No hard and fast rules really. I don’t purposefully shy away from anything in particular, it’s all just a matter of weather or not it fits that time and place.
What is on the horizon for you? Are there any exhibitions that the readers can seek out your work in person?
I’m in the process of locking down dates for 2015. It is going to be a busy year, but a beautiful one. For the rest of the year I’m working on commissions and a couple personal projects. Otherwise I am working on a new self-published zine of the works created within the last year.
As we part ways for now, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t ask you if there were any lessons learned or advice you’ve received along the way that you could relay to the curious minds reading this?
Well in terms of advice, I’ve received a lot of it, from great people, and feel truly blessed by that. At first I took all the comments to heart and felt as though these people know better than I do, they are more seasoned, they have a more long term perspective, and know the art world better than I do. Some of it was kind of hard blows to my ego, my poor sad ego, haha! I think I needed that, because my confidence levels were not where they should be. Possibly because my work wasn’t satisfying my heart the way it should be. In this last year that all changed, I respect the opinions and appreciate the advice but it’s my work. I have to follow my heart and do what I feel is best. The real lesson for me is that if I don’t have enough confidence in my own work to stand behind it fully, then maybe I’m not ready to be out there in the world asking for people to support it.
The best advice I ever received was from Alan Bamberger. It was simple and honest, and had nothing to do with opinion. Years ago he told me I had the skills but not the dedication — that I wasn’t painting enough and needed to dedicate time to this every day on some level. That sounds and is, so simple, but I just hadn’t thought about it like that for some reason and he was right. That was in 2011, since then my body of work exploded, and I have been more productive than ever before. I’ve pushed myself harder, I’ve learned and I’ve grown.
Sounds cliche but in the end, my advice is be true to yourself and allow your failures to reap the biggest rewards in personal growth.