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James Hueter: A Retrospective

February 22 - May 3, 2009


This retrospective exhibition chronicles the work of James Hueter, one of the Southern California region's most dedicated artists and best-kept secrets. Hueter epitomizes a generation of artists who established their reputations in Claremont following World War II and contributed importantly to the creation of the art-rich environment we enjoy today. A 1948 graduate of Pomona College and 1951 recipient of a Masters Degree from the Claremont Graduate School, Hueter has enjoyed a career that spans 60 years and continues to be as productive as ever.

James Hueter: A Retrospective surveys Hueter's art from his early realist and surrealist paintings, through a long period of investigating and refining hybrid forms of painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and architecture. The exhibition culminates with recent works that meld all of these disciplines, exploring multi-faceted realms of representation and illusion. With more than 75 works on view, new generations will discover an artist of diligent devotion to a vision sustained through decades of experimentation, refinement, and perseverance.

This is the first such exhibition to examine the entire range of James Hueter's unique artistic vision, realizing a core mission of the Claremont Museum of Art to celebrate the region's rich artistic heritage through in-depth exhibitions of its most prominent local heroes.


(above: James Hueter, 10.31.96, 1996, Mixed media on paper)


Artist's Biography

This exhibition presents a chronological overview of the work of James Hueter. Although this remarkable and enigmatic artist has lived and worked in Claremont since 1942, the current retrospective is the first to document the full development of his career. The works on view span an artistic journey of 66 years-from early realist and surrealist paintings reflecting the influence of his teachers to the breakthrough works that first revealed his singular voice.

The exhibition culminates with a selection of Hueter's most recent works, which draw upon decades of experimentation, refinement, and quiet devotion to craft. These synthetic objects blend painting, drawing, architecture, and photography, and extend the boundaries of representation, abstraction, and illusion.

Born in San Francisco in 1925 into a family environment that nurtured the young artist, Hueter showed an early propensity for the arts. This inclination might have derived in part from the fact that his grandfather owned and operated an art and paint supply business, Hueter Brothers, which had been prominent in San Francisco since the late 19th century.

An introduction, by his mother, to noted landscape painter Percy Gray reinforced these early tendencies, and, by the seventh grade, Hueter was sufficiently interested to consider a future in commercial art. He studied briefly with noted watercolorist Dong Kingman at the San Francisco Academy of Advertising Art, but, for the most part, progressed on his own, without benefit of formal schooling.

Drawn to Claremont by other members of his family who had studied here, Hueter entered Pomona College in 1942. In 1946, after three years in the Army and inspired by a brief conversation with the magnetic Millard Sheets, he returned to Claremont and the study of art, taking classes in sculpture, architecture, design, and painting -- disciplines that became the core of his approach to object-making.

Although Hueter cites sculptor Albert Stewart, Whitney Smith's courses in architecture, and Jean Ames's design classes as key to his early development, it was painter Henry Lee McFee who had the most profound impact on the young artist. McFee's formalist focus on structure, balance, and composition, along with the measured care with which he constructed paintings, became the building blocks of Hueter's personal style. Although Hueter abandoned still life and landscape in the early 1960s, the lessons of Stewart, Smith, Ames, and McFee would resonate in his work for years to come. The camaraderie of artists such as Roger Kuntz, Susan Lautmann Hertel, Paul Darrow, Karl Benjamin, and Frederick Hammersley further solidified his commitment.

After receiving a B.A. from Pomona College in 1948 and M.F.A. from the Claremont Graduate School in 1951, Hueter designed and built his home and studio within the city, settling down to raise a family and to undertake his quiet work as artist, teacher, mentor, and respected peer.

In the late 1950s and into the early '60s, Hueter began to break away from the traditions of his past. Always attracted to working with the human figure, he shifted his focus away from landscape. The "soft drawings" of this period are notable not only for the end results but also for the way these were achieved. The process began as an experiment involving repetitive, vertical strokes applied with gentle pressure. The resulting images appear to emerge from a fog-faces and torsos, whole and partial, taking shape from the actions of inscribing and carving with the soft lead of the pencil. During this period, the iconic structure and symmetry of the face became Hueter's preeminent motif and has remained central to his work ever since.

In the early 1970s, Hueter began experimenting with the use of glass. Initially attracted to its color, sheen, and prismatic diffusion of light, Hueter has increasingly used glass -- both transparent and mirrored -- as a key compositional and conceptual element of his work. Its reflective qualities enhance the illusion of depth and draw the viewer's gaze inward. Encountering our own reflected image, we become part of the work. This complex layering of form and concept has been the hallmark of Hueter's art.

In recent years, Hueter has focused almost exclusively on the human face. The earliest form of human pattern recognition, the face constitutes the infant's first visual cue and is critical to the identification of self and others. Hueter's determination both to render a recognizable image and simultaneously to abstract from it is an ongoing quest, a continuing exploration of a subject both familiar and inexhaustibly complex.

I cannot know what these visages mean. Even in the smallest of them I strive for something in the eyes, but I can't define what that is. I am a formalist and work to create a structure that is very solid, one that supports whatever the symbols might express.
-- James Hueter

(above: Color Corner 18.2.88, 1988, Watercolor on paper)


Gallery Guide Foreword and Acknowledgements

This exhibition represents the culmination of more than four years of planning, visualizing, promising, and navigating the logistical and practical hurdles that such ventures represent. Even before The Claremont Museum of Art opened its doors, this exhibition was conceived, the idea offered as one of a number of justifications for the founding of the museum and as an example of how it might honor the artists of the region it would celebrate.

Jim Hueter is known to his friends and peers as an "artists' artist." Perhaps in part for this reason, he and his work have not been as widely known and celebrated as one would expect; the hybrid nature of Hueter's work, the notorious fickleness of the art market, the focused seriousness of his pursuits, and his own modest demeanor might also be factors. Whatever the reasons, however, my goal has always been to right this obvious wrong and bring to public view an artist deserving of notice and respect. I have known Jim's work since arriving in Claremont in 1984 and have valued the opportunity to observe and understand his fundamental approach to painting -- one that I share, despite the vast differences in our work. Jim's quiet seriousness, his steadfast adherence to the classical tenets of craft, and his personal and artistic dignity are as rare as they are remarkable.

I would like to acknowledge the following who have helped me to make this exhibition a reality: Susie Eaton and Juan Thorp, Bunny Gunner Art Services; Susan Guntner, Swan Graphics; Marjorie Harth; Karl Kohn; Melody Kriesel; Lori Evans Lama; John Lucas; Kim Nykanen; Gina Ozuna; Steve and Barbara Schenck; and James Schenck. Finally and most importantly, to Jim and Allie Hueter I extend my most sincere thanks for their forbearance and enthusiastic assistance and support. Working with them has been the greatest pleasure.

- Steve Comba, Guest Curator


(above: The Dream, 1943, Oil on canvas)


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