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All he had to do is dream

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

For some time, Hunt Rettig had faint dreams of being an artist. But his actual ties to the artistic world were mostly long ago and far away: The El Paso native had won a ceramics competition in grade school. In sixth grade, a visit to a Venezuelan museum dedicated to the kinetic art of Jesus Soto made an impression that lasts to this day. And in 1990, while living in Santa Fe, Rettig made a habit of touring the city’s vast collection of galleries.

For the most part, however, Rettig was following a path that had little to do with his creative side. He had gone to business school at Babson College in Massachusetts. In 1991, he was lured to Aspen with the promise of work as a fishing guide; he ended up in real estate and a dozen other insignificant jobs.

Then, some two years ago, Rettig had a dream. Not a daydream about maybe someday picking up a paintbrush, but a deep-in-the-night revelation, far removed from waking consciousness.



“This dream, if anything, showed me a process, along with an image,” said the 35-year-old Rettig. “I woke up and said, ‘Uh huh, that’s what I want to do.’

“I always knew I’d some way be getting into art. I knew I wanted to get something out that was in me. When I woke up, I knew it had been on my mind.”




Turning that initial inspiration into a work of art, though, was not as simple as picking up a brush and painting what he had seen. Rettig’s unconscious mind had delved into the cutting-edge of high concepts and high-tech materials.

“The dream was going up to a wall, looking at a petite frame, and going right up to the image and seeing an infinity of lines going vertical,” said Rettig. “As far as you’d look, you’d see lines going way up and way down, and as far back as you could see, you’d see lines. I woke up going, I know how to pull that off. I can make that.”

Rettig traces the specifics of the dream to his continuing fascination with Jesus Soto, the Venezuelan artist who Rettig had first discovered 25 years ago. “He was a pioneer in kinetic art,” said Rettig. “I came out of that museum pretty much awestruck. To exit the museum, you had to go through a giant metal wind chime, metal tubes going from ceiling to floor that made lots of noise when you went through.

“And that doesn’t stray greatly from [my art]. The kinetic art is what I’m attracted to.”

Materials and meanings

Rettig was right about being able to turn his dream into reality. Since this past summer, Rettig’s work ” framed pieces which he calls mixed-media assemblage ” has been exhibited at Aspen’s David Floria Gallery. He has sold several pieces to major collectors. Next month, Rettig’s work will be included in the inaugural show at Denver’s + Zeile/Judish, a highly anticipated new gallery that brings together two noted Denver art dealers.

While Rettig’s acceptance in the upper reaches of the art world has been relatively quick and painless ” virtually everywhere he has brought his art, it has been received with instant enthusiasm ” there has been a period of trial and failure. Rettig would rather forget his first efforts, a small frame around a box, with mirrors on all sides and string running up and down.

“It looked like a box with mirrors, and string haphazardly strung,” he lamented. “It didn’t work at all. But it was the start of an experimental learning process that’s taken me to where I am now.”

Rettig kept experimenting ” with materials, techniques, ideas ” and soon enough he was approaching the promise of his dream. (Fortunately, he eliminated the plexiglass box from his earliest pieces that would require tearing up walls to be be properly mounted.) What began to emerge was a form of art that was completely unique: the images ” some colored, others in tones of grays and whites ” gave the illusion of movement, as well as of three dimensions. They also seem to have a glow to them, which changes with changing light.

And as Rettig has polished his technique, the pieces have taken on sharper meanings. In his recent works, the shapes in his images ” suggestive of eggs or microscopic cells or rocks ” reflect biological and geological formations. From the beginning, Rettig has also placed a slight irregularity in each of his works. Together, he sees it as his comment on the world: In his artist’s statement, Rettig writes, “If the image reflects a natural occurrence the irregularities I introduce represent man’s mark on nature.” Rettig also relates his art to “ecopsychology” ” which he describes as a study “that addresses psychic numbing from, or denial of … issues such as ozone depletion, increasing pollution, toxicity, poverty and the death of species.”

Assemblage as art

While Rettig’s art is striking, unique and even beautiful, the typical first reaction is ‘Just what is it?’ Most people, Rettig says, assume it is photography, digitally altered with Adobe Photoshop software. (Rettig plays around with the Photoshop idea, using Photoshop lingo for his titles: “Open/Copy/Paste/Copy,” for example.)

At first, Rettig is sly, and says simply that his work is “assemblage.” But at his North 40 home ” which he designed with his wife, Kris ” Rettig keeps an early example that can be taken apart to reveal the mystery. Underneath, the images are made of sheets of mylar bent into various oval shapes; acrylic paint, usually black, adds color. Over this, Rettig puts two layers of plexiglass and a sheet of mylar film, which give the illusions of movement and dimension. Rettig’s more colorful pieces employ cut-up bong tubes.

“It’s simple,” said Rettig of his technique. “I always ask people, ‘Now that you know, does it take away or add to what I’m doing?’ Some people don’t want to know.”

The simplicity of the work hasn’t deterred collectors and dealers. David Floria saw the work at Rettig’s house; a day later, he called Rettig and asked him to bring some pieces to exhibit at his gallery. On a recent trip to Denver, Rettig met with a handful of gallery owners; all either wanted to show his work themselves bor sent Rettig to other gallery owners who would be able to better accommodate the art. The invitation to show at the upcoming exhibit at + Zeile/Judish came after a five-minute meeting with Ivar Zeile in a Denver alley. Rettig went to Santa Fe to show his work to an old friend, a gallery owner. A woman walking out of the gallery as Rettig entered saw his piece and bought it on the spot for $2,500.

Despite the quick success, Rettig doesn’t see himself as having arrived anywhere yet. Describing himself as a “process artist,” Rettig repeats the point that the work is still very much in the expansion stage. He experiments with shape, size and color. One of his most attractive and promising works, “Open Top,” is a giclee photograph ” a photograph printed from a digital file ” of an assemblage he destroyed.

“It’s like I’m on the fast pace to something. I’m continuing to develop the process,” said Rettig, who owns the Suitable for Framing shops in downtown Aspen and at the ABC.

One thing Rettig is waiting for is the inevitable negative reaction.

“I know I’m doing something that’s never been seen before. So when people have a positive reaction to this, it’s exciting,” he said. “I’m still waiting for serious negative criticism. It’s like if you lose a tennis match, you learn more from that than winning. But so far, it’s all been positive.”

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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