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George Hunt: The Picasso of Memphis

Robert Odell, Jr. enjoys sharing the rich history and culture of Memphis, Tennessee, where he has lived and worked for several years.

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Claimed as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso was famous for the art form called cubism. Invented around 1907, cubism was a new interpretation of reality. The artwork fused figures and objects in one setting. The approach combined shapes and colors that produced eye-catching, abstract, fragmented images. Each work brought forth a different meaning to the eyes that beheld them.

Many may feel that Picasso ruled cubism at the beginning of the 20th century. But by the end of the 1900s and on into the 21st century, another great artist was on the scene. At that time, the great artist George Hunt from Memphis, Tennessee, governed cubism.

Prominent Artist of the South

George Hunt was one of the most prominent artists fostered in the South. He admitted to being heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso. Hunt admired Picasso's work and stated, "Not only did I borrow it, but I fully subscribe to his philosophy." Mr. Hunt went on to say, "In fact, good artists borrow and great artists steal."

George showcased his work on touring exhibits that spanned from Seattle, New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. The primary theme of his art was blues music. However, George Hunt also created images about civil rights and the African-American struggle in the South. Affected by African culture, much of Hunt's work yielded the bright colors and simpler shapes reminiscent of French-born painter Georges Braque, another cubism pioneer.

George Hunt was one of the most prominent artists fostered in the South. He admitted to being heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso.

George Hunt was one of the most prominent artists fostered in the South. He admitted to being heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso.

Early Start

Like Picasso, Hunt had an early admiration for art. Born on a sugar cane plantation near Lake Charles, Louisiana, George Hunt's first recollection of an artist was indeed Pablo Picasso.

When he was around three, George's mother, who worked as a domestic, brought back a Life magazine from an employer's home. On the cover of that magazine was a picture of Picasso. The publication contained images of Picasso's art, which enthralled George. The idea of being paid to do something as fulfilling as producing art never entered the youngster's mind. About his discovery of Picasso, Hunt stated, "He's an artist, and I can do that."

Picasso lived the life of a full-time artist. Hunt was an artist who worked for 36 years as an art instructor at George Washington Carver High School in Memphis, Tennessee. The athletic department also respected him as the football and track coach. Art, however, remained intrinsically woven and ever-present in the fabric of George Hunt's life.

Like Picasso, Hunt had an early admiration for art. Born on a sugar cane plantation near Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1940, George Hunt's first recollection of an artist was indeed Pablo Picasso.

Civil Rights Paintings

Hunt's national and international notoriety soared when his civil rights painting about the "Little Rock Nine" hit new heights. In 2005, the work became a US postage stamp. The image stood out as part of the United States Postal Service series titled "To Form a Perfect Nation."

In 2005, George Hunt's painting "Little Rock Nine" became a US postage stamp.

In 2005, George Hunt's painting "Little Rock Nine" became a US postage stamp.

George's work, "America Cares/Little Rock Nine," was commissioned in 1997 for The Central High School Museum in Little Rock. President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton were at a ceremony at the museum site and were awed by the painting. The Clintons were so impressed that they asked if the artwork could hang in the White House. Before returning to Little Rock, George's painting resided in the White House for five years.

The Clintons were so impressed by George Hunt's painting that they asked if the artwork could hang in the White House.

From the First Lady

First Lady Hillary Clinton sent Mr. Hunt a personal note of appreciation. She said, "We are grateful that our visitors and staff have such a powerful image of hope and freedom to greet, inspire, and inform them." Hunt went on to say, "Being invited to the White House and going there to see my work was the pinnacle of my career." The note deeply moved Hunt. He recalled that Mrs. Clinton said the work was incredibly inspiring to her and her staff and had a compelling impact on them.

Luminary Admiration

First Lady Hillary Clinton was not the only person of notoriety to admire the talent of George Hunt. George's work appeared in the private collections of luminaries such as businessman and art collector Steve Wynn; actor, painter, writer, film director Anthony Quinn; actor, comedian, writer, producer, and singer Eddie Murphy; actor, screenwriter, producer, martial artist, and musician Steven Seagal; singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer Justin Timberlake; and author, journalist, television writer and producer David Simmons. Many publications featured and wrote about Hunt, including Ebony magazine in 2005.

Official Artist for "Year of the Blues"

In 2002, the US Congress declared 2003 to be the "Year of the Blues." A national tour ensued, and George Hunt became the official artist for the excursion. Hunt created a new body of work, especially for the event. He named the exhibit "Conjuring the Blues, The High Cotton Tour." George created 26 large paintings that celebrated the history of American blues music. The Radio City Music Hall in New York displayed the title painting in the grand lobby.

In 2003 George Hunt became the official artist for the "Year of the Blues" exhibit and tour.

In 2003 George Hunt became the official artist for the "Year of the Blues" exhibit and tour.

Paintings Are Recognized

After retiring from the Memphis School System, Hunt was able to delve full-time into his art. All along, however, he prospered in his passion. His art appeared in prints and posters. He received numerous commissions from private collectors and national organizations, such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Pop Culture Museum in Seattle.

Mr. Hunt's framed paintings have appeared in Memphis hotels, restaurants, and bars.

Mr. Hunt's framed paintings have appeared in Memphis hotels, restaurants, and bars.

His images have graced the surface of numerous T-shirts, and untold tourists and locals have viewed Hunt's artwork in a Memphis hotel, restaurant, or bar. George Hunt's paintings are recognized even if his name is not.

Memphis in May International Festival

George Hunt's most significant recognition appears to come from the Memphis in May International Festival. For 28 years, Hunt created the artwork for the official poster of the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival. All of his creations are valuable collectors' items.

The paintings of George Hunt have graced the surface of many T-shirts. They have also been the artwork for the official poster of the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival.

The paintings of George Hunt have graced the surface of many T-shirts. They have also been the artwork for the official poster of the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival.

George Hunt Stands on His Own

More than the Picasso of Memphis, George Hunt stands on his own as a brilliant and talented artist. He died on Friday, December 4, 2020, at the age of 85. His work is and will continue to be admired and cherished by all who experience it.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Odell Jr

Comments

Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on December 14, 2020:

George Hunt was well loved as an artist, a teacher, and as a person. Thank you for reading.

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on December 14, 2020:

This is amazing.

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