Alternative Healing is a fascinating exhibition of new work. Mr. Stabler is a generous artist who doesn’t give much away. He is an obsessive and prolific maker; one that will happily discuss the ‘How’ of his work in detail. If you want to know the ‘What’ or ‘Why’ you will have a difficult time getting a straight answer from him. I’ve seen a Hunter Stabler with a mischievous glint in his eye. He honestly seems to believe that works of art can have a transformational effect on a human’s consciousness.
I have had the benefit and pleasure of being on familiar terms with Hunter and his work since 2005. In 2008 Pageant hosted his first solo show with us: Thanks to Mom and Dad / Chain of the Worlds. At the time his ‘How’ relied on the functioning of his hands to execute the elaborate ciphered forms of his visual language. Hunter’s maniacal pursuit to manifest that language eventually ended up wrecking his hands. A disabling tendonitis was the result of the thousands of hours spent meticulously crafting his delicate and highly intricate hand drawn and cut images. Following a partially successful surgery to alleviate the crippling condition Hunter began to explore different methods of fabrication:
“In the years leading up to my decision to stop cutting paper by hand, I had begun to incorporate digital tools into my process of drawing and design. I would scan hand- drawn elements, mirroring and repeating them using Adobe Photoshop, then printing out these elements and tracing them back onto the original drawing using graphite paper and transfer paper. I began learning Adobe Illustrator in 2014 so I could develop vector drawings that could be cut out of paper using a Computer Numerical Control, CNC, laser. Adobe Illustrator also opened the possibility of designing colored elements that could be printed on paper and then cut out. I began scanning hand-drawn elements, digitally tracing hand-drawn elements, digitally manipulating hand-drawn elements, digitally generating original elements, and then bringing the digital elements back into the physical environment through printing and laser-cutting. This practice of bouncing between the digital work environment and the physical work environment provided relief for my hands and opened new aesthetic possibilities through new combinations of hand-made craft and digital tools. “ (Hunter Stabler, Louisiana State University MFA thesis, 2020)
For the past 3 years Stabler has been developing these new possibilities as a MFA candidate at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was flattered and intrigued when he contacted me last year to see if it would be possible to mount an exhibition of his thesis work at Pageant. I didn’t have much of an idea of what the work would be, but I had no doubt that it was something I definitely wanted to make happen. Over the past few weeks of unpacking, arranging, hanging and re-hanging the pieces in this exhibition I’ve had the opportunity to enter into some of the vortices of this unique artistic mind of his. On the most basic level Alternative Healing is a series of portraits, complemented by a selection of sculptural objects, which highlight his fascination with the process of the craft. This is merely the surface and physical body of the work. The conceptual range which animates the exhibition is broad and complex:
“Beyond my formal artistic concerns, my art involves the conceptual gameplay of puzzles and secret codes. I am attracted to cryptological and symbolic art because it holds a secret and becomes a puzzle to play with the creative wit and knowledge of its beholder. I use cryptological and symbolic elements because I wish to hide things in plain sight and as a wink of the eye to fellow cartographers of inner space, conspiracy theorists, magicians, mystics, shamans, alchemists, and middle school goths who wish their parents would just get off their backs. I see parallels between the dissembling visual and textual languages of occult esoterica and the exclusionary visual languages and textual languages of contemporary and modern art; both occult cryptography and contemporary and modern art are often illegible and alienating to the uninitiated.” (HS, 2020)
If one moves beyond the dazzling execution of what he terms the ‘optical metagrobolization’ of the pieces, the process of decoding the ‘What’ can begin. Bring your wikipedia. It will also be very helpful if you can read braille. Hunter isn’t going to piece the puzzle together for you, and I have been sworn to secrecy regarding the various bits of information confided in me. As to the ‘Why’? The other day Hunter said to me, “I like to make people uncomfortable. It’s one of my favorite things. And that is what I want my work to do.” I am fairly certain that there is more to his work than just that.
—Daniel Dalseth, Director, Pageant : Soloveev