When he’s not teaching painting as an adjunct professor at the Corcoran School, artist and Corcoran School of Art + Design alumnus Jeff Huntington is trying to expand the street art scene in Annapolis, Md, where he resides.
His latest piece, a public mural entitled “Agony and Ecstasy Live Together in Perfect Harmony” has attracted praise from Annapolis residents and criticism from those who feel it interferes with the city’s historic vibe.
We spoke to Huntington about the story behind his work and his time at the Corcoran School of Art + Design. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Hatchet: This mural you painted has been gaining quite a bit of attention recently. What is the meaning and inspiration behind it?
Huntington: It’s an image I’ve been playing with a little bit. The image is made up of two portraits: a black and white portrait superimposed with a color portrait. The black and white portrait is an image of a film still of an injured nurse from the 1925 Sergei Eisenstein Film “Battleship Potemkin” and for me that has always signified pain and suffering. And the other image I put on top of it is a Buddha which has always signified peace overcoming, bliss, happiness, nirvana and so forth. It’s just a yin and yang thing, something that I think extends to all religions and all people and all living things. That’s what that is. If there’s any message from me, that’s what the message is behind that piece.
Hatchet: You painted the mural on the side of a restaurant. Why did you choose this particular location to display your piece?
Huntington: For a while now I’ve been wanting to figure out a way to introduce more public art in Annapolis because there’s a huge presence of very talented visual artists and musicians, but they have no voice because of the rules that a very small minority of the Historic Preservation Commission Enact. I would never want to paint on historic structures at all so I look for places where art would fit in really well and I think that the historic nature and contemporary art by local artists can co-exist really well here as it does everywhere else in the world. [Tsunami] knew that this is what I do so they were given a citation to paint the building because of peeling paint.
Hatchet: What are some of the responses to the mural that have stood out to you the most?
Huntington: Overwhelmingly positive responses for sure. Thousands of people versus one or two negative responses. But the negative responses that stand out the most were on the Capital Gazette paper, they’re online comments. There were two comments I found following two different articles that said I am disrespecting nurses and that nurses have a hard enough time as it is and that they’re the only ones that will take care of drug dealers and gangbangers. And that my art is nothing but hipster trash. So I thought that was interesting. They don’t know me, I don’t know who they are but both of my parents were nurses. So it’s just an interesting response to me because people are willing to go out there and post things and say things without any information. I’m pretty sensitive and I probably would have been in tears if I read that, had there not been an overwhelmingly positive response.
Hatchet: You attended the Corcoran School of Art + Design and graduated in 1995. What drew you to Corcoran?
Huntington: I grew up just being an artist because my older brothers were artists, my father was an artist, my grandmother and grandfather were artists so when I came into the world I thought this is what I was supposed to do. When I was 15, I stole a car with my best friend and we stole his parents’ car and we ran away to Florida. I had a hard time learning, and reading and studying in school and when it came time to go to high school, I freaked out. So I left and I learned how to hustle and eventually I started following the Grateful Dead around the country and I started using art, making tie dyes and things, among other illegal hustles, to make a living. I passed my GED test and I got so excited about that I thought, ‘I could go to college with this thing and I didn’t even go to high school.’ So I proceeded to do that but the only thing that made sense to me was art school and the Corcoran was pretty close by. I thought an art school were masters already so I could get better by making 300 paintings the year before I entered art school. I wanted to make 300 paintings in one year and I did. They asked for 20 slides and I sent them 60. I guess I overwhelmed them and they were like, ‘Sure, you can go here.’
Hatchet: You became an adjunct professor to teach painting in 2013. What made you come back?
Huntington: I never set out to be a teacher but I got a call from them in 2012 and they asked me if I would come and teach and I had a panic attack. The following year, we sorted it out and I started coming in and teaching and it worked out really well. I started teaching a class called advanced teaching special topics, but since I’m an adjunct and GW doesn’t know who I am, they decided to give my class away to a full-time GW professor and the only thing they’re allowed to offer me now to teach is beginning painting. So they hired me and allowed me to sort of teach in the only way I know how, which is basically share my experiences. But now I have to learn how to teach by-the-book and teach structure, which I think will be good for me and help me learn to be a better teacher.
Hatchet: What are some projects you’ve got planned for the future?
Huntington: I am going to Brazil next month to create a show down in Sao Paolo. And then I’ll do a mural project while I’m there as well with some local artists from Sao Paolo who we brought up to Annapolis last year to do a mural project. And in September, they’re going come back up here and continue doing murals here in Annapolis.