Sublime Creatures: The Animal-Human Hybrids of Hunter Clarke
“At first, like many viewers, I felt my creatures were bizarre, if beautiful too, but now I share their relaxed comfort with their unhidden feral display.” – Hunter Clarke
Painting hybrid portraits of animal heads connected to pregnant female bodies and juxtaposing these against spare or floral patterned domestic backdrops, Hunter Clarke’s beings recall the Ancient Egyptian sphinx, the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha, and the monsters or chimera from Classical Greek mythology such as mermaids and harpies. Many of the children in Clarke’s work are breastfeeding, the image of which conjures the Roman origin myth of Romulus and Remus who suckle from a wolf mother.
Clarke also invokes Christian motifs in her work. In many of her paintings, an illuminated orb appears behind animal portraits recalling halos found in late medieval paintings of saints and the Madonna and Child. Rather than repeat a familiar ethereal and anthropocentric vision of the immaculate conception, Clarke depicts a pregnant lion-mother exposing her fangs at a distant viewer with one hand on her hip and the other cradling her protruding belly. Clarke’s changelings seem to channel an inner strength while manifesting a divine power to overcome adversity—perhaps in the form of labor pains. A characteristic of Hunter Clarke’s work is the look of utter indifference in many of the faces of her pregnant predators. While aesthetically pleasing, her creatures remain ultimately unknowable and unpredictable and thus embody the definition of the sublime.
Gretchen Hupfel Curator of Contemporary Art