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Kelly Hunt Probes the Secret Life of the Flower

Morado, Digital Art, 45 x 32
A rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote Gertrude Stein, but one feels almost certain that  Kelly Hunt would disagree. For in her large digital photographs of floral forms on canvas, Hunt makes clear that a rose –– and indeed any other species of flower –– can be ever so much more.
    Having grown up in Bermuda, where all manner of exotic flora, fauna, and sea creatures abound, it seems only natural that Hunt has chosen flowers as her vehicle for aesthetic expression. However, it is her unique slant on the subject that lends her work its singular distinction. For one thing, most of her compositions are extreme close-ups that, much in the manner of Georgia O’Keeffe, focus on the abstract and suggestive qualities of flowers and plants.
    Hunt’s eye for form and composition is unerring. Her prints are as pristine as the floral pictures of Robert Mapplethorpe, which are more exquisite in formal terms than the more controversial sexual imagery that gained him the most attention. Hunt, however, accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of maintaining that exquisite formal balance while working with lush, luscious color. It is a tribute to her taste that no matter how rich the colorations of the species she is photographing, her compositions never become gaudy or overbearing.
    Rather, they retain a subtle chromatic beauty, even in a composition such as “Morado,” where the petals of the deep purple flower with a yellow center billow out to fill the entire picture space in soft, satiny waves. Here, as in another scrumptious picture called “Linda,” where the pink / yellow petals curl around a dark central orifice, there is an undeniable labial suggestiveness fully as pronounced as in O’Keeffe’s famous “Black Orchid,” in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    Obviously, the sensuous colors and sensual forms in Hunt’s photographs often suggest human anatomy. Yet they also evoke a host of autonomous abstract forms as well, as seen in “Orchid II,” one of her most striking prints, in which the deep red form, hovering near the upper left corner of the composition, takes on an unearthly quality, almost suggesting an apparition of a spectral face. Then there is “Lily,” where the delicate yellow and pink petals recede into the background, becoming as ethereal and immaterial as pale beams of light, while the six clustered pods appear to float freely in space near the lower left side of the composition. 
    It is almost as though Hunt, who has stated, “In my estimation, the job of an artist is to illuminate the mundane,” is revealing in these pictures an alternative reality within a familiar subject. Indeed, her imagery has the opposite effect from Andy Warhol’s silkscreened flowers, which seemed to concur with Gertrude Stein’s deadpan literalism in  suggesting that “what you see is what you get.”
    Rather than numbing the perceptions in a similar manner, Kelly Hunt’s floral explorations invite the viewer to open up to new imaginative possibilities. In other words, they show us not only the visual manifestation of natural beauty, but invite us to contemplate the ineffable mystery of what the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas once referred to, unforgettably, as “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”
–– Maureen Flynn

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