I'll Wake Up Older: A Conversation with Hunter Potter
There is a sense we had a lost year in 2020, and yet here we are in 2021, on the precipice of life returning, perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel. In 20 years time, we might have a better sense of what the pause looked like in terms of our collective psyche. Hunter Potter is talking about it now, but also a deeper conversation about personal life with his new body of work, I'll Wake Up Older, now on view at Richard Heller Gallery in Los Angeles. Looking at youth, small town America, the perception of peaking in high school and being heartbroken when looking at the past. That it reflects perhaps our COVID life seems apt. I spoke with the Brooklyn-based painter recently to talk about what the intricacies of his work were speaking to, how the happy accident of connecting with COIVD came to fruition, growing up in small town America and the idea of You Can't Win.
Evan Pricco: I want to talk about the name for the show, I'll Wake Up Older. Of course, this is the universal human experience, everyday, but it feels like it connects so well with the pandemic. Like when this weird time is over, we will all have missed a part of life. Did that play into it?
Hunter Potter: It's interesting to hear you say this! You are not the first person to draw a connection between the title and the pandemic. Though COVID did indeed age us all, the title actually had nothing to do with it. A happy accident I suppose, haha! The phrase comes from Jackson C. Frank's incredibly depressing 1965 song "Blues Run The Game" in which he admits that he will eventually "wake up older" and stop all of his trying. He is heartbroken and slowly realizing that the peak may be behind him. A bit dramatic, perhaps, but this is more or less how I feel about the high school experience that these paintings describe. I did not realize how amazing it actually was to grow up in a small town until it was over and, suddenly, I had woken up older.
Do you feel like you "got older" this year? Like wiser?
That's a tough question. I certainly learned a lot about myself this year but I don't quite know if any of it made me wiser. I think if anything I got a little dumber during the pandemic. For starters, I learned that I am quite literally terrible at being alone. I am a social creature and the only person I don't ever really feel like hanging out with is myself. I also learned (re-learned) how easy it is to drink too much. Covid was a slippery slope, man!
When did you start this body of work? It feels like each work has this sort of "when we used to be" feeling and I really like how your style plays with that motif.
I think I started this body of work around April/May of 2020. It took a while to land on the general concept and plenty of supplies were wasted in the trials and errors but, eventually, I realized that I wanted to pay homage to my hometown friends and our high school experience. I love to talk about where I am from and how I grew up and I love to exaggerate and try to make me and my friends sound cooler than we actually are so it seemed like an appropriate topic for the show. Visually speaking, I'd like to think that the misted spray paint lends to the general nostalgia, reading like a hazy memory, while the contrasting sharp and graphic lines allow for the more "important moments" to be highlighted.
I noticed that even in the darker moments of these paintings, there is what appears to be a wry smile. I don't want to say its sinister, but there is this sort of really interesting mania in the work. Am I off?
You are spot on! There is definitely mania throughout the show and I am definitely a pretty manic person in general. Super high highs and really low lows. When I look back, however, even those low moments taught me something. I probably did not realize it at the time but they undeniably opened a new door or illuminated a dark corner of the brain and, therefore, I think I have to smile about them, right? Heartbreak blows and death sucks and getting in trouble is the worst, but it's all part of growing up and "waking up older." You learn from it and you keep it moving and, when given a platform such as a gallery show to look back and reflect, you have to be grateful for that stuff.
I love the work You Can't Win (above). The title, the high school dreaminess... talk abou that one?
The home team has lost the game at the very last second by one measly point and some idiot guy from the rival school has managed to steal the hometown girl. Insult has been added to injury. You can't win, man!
Does it still feel a bit difficult to make work with a bit of a different style of opening, audience viewing and even studio practice? How did this show take shape for you?
Hmm. I am probably not the best person to ask about this. I have been lucky enough to maintain a regular studio practice throughout the pandemic. My studio is fully private, the building is constantly cleaned, and it is just a short bike ride/walk from my apartment so I have not had to rely on public transit for the commute. This was such an unplanned and unexpected blessing. I was able to paint everyday and stay on schedule. As far as the show itself, every artist wants an opening with friends and booze and cigarettes but, unfortunately, it just isn't in the cards right now and I knew that throughout the entire creation of this body of work. I knew the paintings would go in a box truck and head west without me and that was totally okay. It's the new normal and there are bigger fish to fry in the world right now than art openings!
What are you looking forward to when we get back to a sense of normalcy? Give me one thing...
Bar hopping, baby!
Hunter Potter's solo show at Richard Heller Gallery will be on view through March 27, 2021