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illoz interviews
Robert Hunt
interviewed by illoz

illoz: Let's start at the very beginning.
There's very little reference material that documents your early life. Hopefully, you don't mind some questions about that.

Here we go

1. Where were you born?
2. What High School (if any) did you attend?
3. Did you have an amazing art teacher who inspired you before setting off to attend university at UC Davis?
Robert Hunt: I was born in Berkeley California and attended San Rafael High School, San Rafael California.

I did have the benefit of a great high school art teacher, Mrs Larrick, who was inspiring on many levels, in a time when there was creative inspiration blossoming everywhere, the bay area in the late sixties.

illoz: Sticking to your early life for a sec, in your pod cast interview with Sam Weber, you mention spending a lot of time in your grandfathers wood shop.
Can you elaborate on how your experience with him in his workshop informed your life at the time and perhaps even informs it now?
RH: My grandparents lived a few miles from me when I was growing up, and I used to ride my bike to their house on weekends. My grandfather had a stroke when I was very young and had lost the use of his right arm and leg. He had a woodworking shop in his basement and he spent a lot of time teaching me how to use his tools and make little wooden machines and gadgets. He always emphasized how important it was to value and appreciate the ability to physically do things with your hands and to make things that could solve problems. I remember him teaching me how to tie my shoes with one hand the way he had to, so I would appreciate having two hands.

illoz: Learning to use your hands...if you're lucky enough to have them. That may be a topic for another interview with you.

Let's press on with early inspirations if you don't mind. What inspired you artistically before setting off to art school?

RH: The British Invasion, the Beatles, the Pop art movement, great films by Stanley Kubrick and David Lean, all kinds of creative things were happening when I was a kid, and I was especially excited by all through high school by the creative energy that was permeating the Bay Area in the late sixties. The Summer of Love, the Haight Ashbury and the San Francisco music scene and the poster art- it was all happening then. I was only an observer but I started to have a sense that there were people who did these cool creative projects for a living- I wanted to be one of them, but had no idea of anything beyond that, That whole cultural moment in the bay area ended before I could really become a participant. By then I had gone off to attend UC Davis.

illoz: In your Hamilton King Award acceptance speech, you mention that you were teaching math at some point in your life. How about some details on that? When and where and what in the world qualified you to teach math?
RH: I worked for two years in a rural public middle school, where I taught math and science as part of a remedial program for kids whose parents were mainly migrant farm workers. Somehow I had whatever level of qualifications were needed to have that job. The bar was set very low. The thing I learned there was that I wasn't cut out to be a public school teacher, and by the time I started the second year I had an escape plan, which was to save every penny, find an art school and become a "commercial artist".

illoz: Do you recall the name of the town / High School you taught math at?

Not sure why the mathematics part of your background is so oddly fascinating, but do you still have an interest in math?
RH: I worked at Esparto Middle School in the rural California central central valley in the late 70s. By coincidence, several of my current students went there this fall to paint a mural with a CCA class. I say coincidence because Esparto is probably 100 miles from CCA. I have no idea how or why they picked Esparto.
I was teaching math also by coincidence unrelated to my own minimal interest in math. There was an opening for a math teacher, I applied and got the job.
I suppose there is a need for a little basic arithmetic for any artist, but that's about as far as it goes. Probably there is room to apply all sorts of theory to art, as in music, but there are only so many hours in the day.
I think when people hear I was a math teacher, they imagine some sort of goodwill hunting type of savant, but that's about as far as possible from reality in my case.

illoz: Word on the street is that you initially went to college as an undergrad in film making and that your professor Wayne Thiebaud encouraged you to switch majors. Did you initially attend university with an eye on film making? If so, why and what's the story there?
RH: I went to UC Davis originally as an art studio (fine art) major, but like countless art students before and after me, I couldnít see my place or a future for myself in the art world. I changed my major to filmmaking because I loved film but soon learned the same issues I found frustrating in art were present in the film department. Eventually I changed again to art history, at the suggestion of Wayne Thiebaud who I occasionally talked to because I pulled slides for him and other teachers in the art library as a work-study job.I graduated with a degree in Art History from UC Davis in 1976. After i graduated from Davis, I spent a couple of unfocused years; I rode a bicycle across the US with two friends, and upon return got the job teaching math in the rural community of Esparto for two years. During that time I decided that i didnít want to be a schoolteacher-but an idea slowly composed in my mind that I still needed to become kind of artist, and i started to gain an understanding that there was such a thing as illustration and illustrators, but I had no idea who they were or how they got started in it. Eventually I enrolled at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. It was a very different place in then. They had just started a graduate illustration program, and as luck would have it, I was one of only two students in the program-- the other was Kazuhiko Sano.

illoz: What year did you first attend the Academy of Art in San Francisco?
RH: I came there in 1978 and graduated with an MFA in 1980.

illoz: It sounds as if you just woke up one day and realized, hey, that illustration thing could be a career! Were there illustrators active at the time that you admired and who's success may have motivated you to arrive at that happy conclusion? The late great David Grove comes to mind.
RH: Of course I always knew there was such a thing as what was usually called "commercial art" but I had no idea who those people were or how they got to do that job. It seemed to me that the UC Davis art department looked down upon commercial artists as an untouchable caste, for the most part. During my stint in the "real world" I started to think that I could be one of those people, if I could just figure out a way to get my foot in the door. At the academy I was exposed to a lot of people who were successful on a local level. There were also"New York Illustrators" and it was just starting to be possible to achieve success on a national level without being in New York , because of a new thing called Federal Express, soon followed by the Fax Machine. I started to set my goal on being one of them. In that sense, David was a San Franciscan who was a New York Illustrator, and in many ways he set the career template for Kazu and myself. For me though, the most important figure at the time was Bruce Wolfe. He was my MFA advisor and mentor, and in many ways he still is. David was Kazu's advisor. We were very lucky, as I said, at the time the MFA program had only the two of us enrolled.

illoz: While attending the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Barbara Bradley was the director of the fledgling illustration program that you and Kazu were accepted to. Can you recall how she might have encouraged you, both in and out of school?
RH: She was unique. She taught clothed figure drawing and heads and hands, and I took one of those classes almost every day for a year. She would draw over your drawing, she would make you change your grip, she would make you stand away from the drawing board, and so on. She had a specific process and she made you learn it. She made a clear distinction between practicing, (ie work for school) and real work, which was what you did using what you learned. Over the years I have come to appreciate more and more what a great teacher she was. More than anything, she taught me to turn off my ego when I was drawing.
At the time we didn't know much of anything about her past as one of the only women illustrators at the Cooper studio in NY. She downplayed her own work and her own history to the point that most students didn't even know she had ever done anything but teach drawing.

illoz: This interview has successfully gotten you from getting birthed to college graduation! Let's move on to becoming a professional. You mentioned that your first job in New York came from the art director Gerry Counihan. Who was Gerry art directing for at the time? Was he alrady at Dell? Do you recall what the job was and how you landed that first assignment?
RH: Gerry worked with the legendary art director Len Leone at Bantam at that time. Len and Gerry both looked at my portfolio- I was there with Kazu - and promised to send me a job. A few days later a manuscript came from Gerry.
I learned later that Len had lost his job the same week we were there- Gerry had taken over the leadership of the Bantam art department. Still, he remembered to send me that book, which began a long working relationship with Gerry and many people I later met through association with Bantam- (which went on through mergers to become Bantam/Doubleday/Dell, later Random House, now Penguin Random House) -I still work with several of these people today. Gerry is one of the nicest and most selfless people I ever met in my life, and I was very lucky to have met him when I did.

illoz: Care to share other early assignments and the art directors who gave you your first breaks?
RH: My first book cover assignment was probably my most pivotal- it came from Jerry Counihan, who at the time had just become the head art director at Bantam Books. Jerry was a wonderful and generous art director, and he introduced me to many others, with whom I continue to work to this day.

illoz: It seems that your early interest in film has been fullfilled with the motion graphics you've been involved in. How did these opportunities comes along?
RH: I had the fortune of being recommended to a producer at ILM to work on the Dreamworks logo by my friend Dennis Muren, the senior visual effects supervisor there. I was only initially engaged to make a visualization of a cloudscape, but I included some extra sketches, the result of which was that the project expanded into several months of work, with me doing all the art in the motion logo. This project has led to several more, the most recent of which is the logo for BroadGreen pictures.

illoz: Okay okay! This interview has been a lot of fun! Admittedly, this was to fill in some missing, and/or undocumented biographical details for your Wikipedia page, which is a site that people trust and quote from, for one reason or another. Thanks so much for your time. Anything else you want to add, now is the time to do it...Otherwise, thanks again and many thanks beyond them that were already mentioned.