Influential Artist Gerorge Hunt has Passed @commercialappeal #memphis #artist #art #georgehunt

Influential Artist Gerorge Hunt has Passed #georgehunt

Memphis artist George Hunt, whose colorful portraits of blues musicians and paintings of civil rights history were showcased in museums, on a U.S. postage stamp, in the White House and on 28 years of Beale Street Music Festival posters, died Friday morning at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Hunt had been in poor health and had suffered a number of illnesses over the past couple years, according to family members and friends. He was 85.

Influenced by the blues spirit of his Deep South upbringing and by the bold palette and abstract imagery of his favorite painter, Pablo Picasso, Hunt developed an instantly recognizable style of portraiture that used vivid color, expressionistic distortion and such collage elements as pieces of fabric and jewelry to capture the essence as well as the likeness of Furry Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, Blind Lemon Jefferson and other legends of the blues. 

For example, a painting of B.B. King he created for the Congo Square stage of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2016, the year after King’s death, depicts the once Memphis-based “King of the Blues” with expressive swatches of green, blue and red illuminating one side of his face, his entire figure haloed in a sort of neon outline that suggests the electricity of the guitarist’s performance.

Hunt also created symbolic paintings on such subjects as “The Spirit of Cotton” and themed series inspired by the civil rights struggle and his African American heritage. One such series depicted workers carrying the “I Am a Man” sign made famous during the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis.

“He painted what he knew out of life,” said Hunt’s longtime friend and business partner, David Simmons, former president of the Blues Foundation

With his signature skipper’s cap and dapper mustache, Hunt was a familiar figure to arts festival habitués and residents of Downtown, where for years he operated a South Main Street gallery and worked in a Beale Street studio.

He also achieved a certain international renown, traveling “all over the Western Hemisphere,” according to Simmons, after the U.S. Congress named him the “official artist” of 2003’s “Year of the Blues,” a congressionally endorsed attempt to increase appreciation of one of America’s chief contributions to arts culture.

In 1997, Hunt was commissioned to create a painting for the new interpretive center under construction at the Little Rock Central High School Historic Site. His painting of the “Little Rock Nine” — the nine students who integrated the school in 1954 — made such an impression on President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton, who attended a ceremony at the site, that the Clintons borrowed the painting for the White House, where it hung for five years before being returned to Little Rock.

In 2005, the painting was used by the U.S. Postal Service on a stamp honoring the Little Rock Nine, issued as part of a series recognizing civil rights milestones that was titled “To Form a More Perfect Union.”

Unlike many painters, Hunt was able to make a decent living through his art, selling prints and posters of his paintings, in galleries and on his website (, while also receiving numerous commissions for his work, from private collectors as well as such organizations as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.

Many of his images have been reproduced on T-shirts, and it sometimes seems as if every Memphis bar, restaurant and hotel contains at least one framed reproduction of a Hunt painting. As a result, even those who don’t know Hunt’s name might recognize his style.

Hunt received some of his most high-profile exposure via the Memphis in May International Festival. For the past 28 years, Hunt created the official poster for the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival, and he often worked a booth showcasing his art on the festival grounds in Tom Lee Park.

According to Simmons, Hunt completed this year’s poster in February, but it remains unseen, due to the cancellation of the festival in the wake of the pandemic.

Another popular Hunt project was the “Blues Greats” portrait gallery he created in 1998 for the Horseshoe Tunica casino. The 26 colorful and sometimes whimsical paintings are now on display at the Gateway to the Blues Museum in Robinsonville, Mississippi.

Simmons described Hunt’s style as “acrylic-and-collage on canvas.” Hunt created his pictures with acrylic paint, often augmented by collage elements affixed to the canvas. “He might use a piece of a woman’s hat to add a ‘real’ hat to the picture,” Simmons said. “He might add a ring or some jewelry. He would add cut-outs of hands and lips and create a dimensional effect.”

Born near Lake Charles, Louisiana, Hunt spent much of his childhood in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He played football at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, but came to the University of Memphis to pursue his studies in art. He also studied at New York University, Simmons said. He taught art and coached sports at Carver High School in Memphis before his success as a painter enabled him to devote himself full time to his art career.

Hunt leaves his wife of six decades, Marva Hunt; his daughter, Harlyn Yeargin, of Louisville; and two grandchildren. His son, WDIA-AM 1070 radio personality Kylan Hunt, 54, died two years ago from natural causes. According to friends, George Hunt’s sadness over the death of his son affected him greatly, and he had been in poor health ever since.

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