‘I’m Staging Imaginary Operas’: See How Artist Elliott Hundley Uses Theatrical Tricks to Evoke Emotion in His Collages
As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.
From a distance, Elliott Hundley‘s layered canvases appear as frenzied masses of colors and shapes, kaleidoscopic fragments that seem reined in simply by the four sharp edges of the canvas. Closer, though, the blurred edges become clear, and recognizable figures and words stand out of the sumptuous collages. For the artist, these two-dimensional works share many of the same impulses as an opera—exaggeratedly dramatic and emotional, in his own words, something quite “artificial.”
In an exclusive interview filmed back in 2015 as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, Hundley explains the similarities between the two art forms, and expands on his artistic practice.
In opera, everything is dialed up to eleven: from the makeup and characters’ costumes, from the stratospheric high notes to the subterranean low notes, to the “ludicrous proposition” that is at the heart of each storyline. “I’m staging imaginary operas,” Hundley tells Art21. “That’s definitely my goal, creating some sort of emotional response from the work that I make” he says. If opera is a sort of funhouse mirror reflection of everyday life, slightly skewed and oversaturated, so too are Hundley’s collages.
“I think it’s resonant because it is made of the stuff that we see every day” he says, “So it’s familiar. It reflects our reality. And it’s self-evident.”
Hundley’s massive work Balcony (2020–21) is making its Los Angeles debut in “Echo”, his upcoming solos show at Regen Projects. The 40-foot mural features imagery culled from popular culture: a Quaker Oats container, Canada Dry club soda, African masks, and pin-up girls are juxtaposed with religious and political imagery, a confluence of the fantasy and reality of everyday life. The work is named for Jean Genet’s 1956 play, “in which the division of fantasy and reality collapses and social codes are suspended,” according to the gallery.
Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up below. “Elliott Hundley: Echo” is on view at Regen Projects from January 14 through February 19, 2023.
This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.
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