Born 1948 Auckland, New Zealand
Died 2014 London, England
Other name(s) Alexis Jan Atthill Hunter
Alexis Hunter was a feminist artist and writer, known especially for her provocative photo-narratives which explore the exploitation, sexualisation, and objectification of women. Born in New Zealand, she moved to London in 1972 after graduating from the Elam School of Fine Arts (1966–69). Her work is characterised by feminist themes, reflecting her active involvement in the Women’s Workshop of the Artists’ Union in London. The female hand and male body are distinctive motifs in her practice, especially when considered in relation to the psychology of advertising. Although best known for photography, Hunter turned to more expressive painterly compositions in the early 1980s. Her inclusion in the exhibitions ‘WACK!, Art and The Feminist Revolution’ (2007) at MOCA, Los Angeles, and ‘Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK 1970–1990’ (2024) at Tate Britain is testament to her reputation as a feminist artist. Alongside her artistic practice, Hunter lectured at art schools in the UK and abroad, including as a visiting Associate Professor of Painting and Photography at the University of Houston, Texas (1986).
Approaches to Fear (1977)
Between 1967–77 Hunter created a large body of work called ‘Approaches to Fear’, in which she pictured hands performing actions that challenge gendered expectations. In advertising, hands are quite often depicted touching the object to give it a tactile reality. The six works from this series in The Women’s Art Collection feature hairy male hands fixing a bike, but bedecked with ornate feminine jewellery. Compositionally, the hands could be your own, directly implicating the viewer in the work. The green paint on top of the photograph is a stamp of the artist’s own presence. About this series, feminist critic Lucy Lippard noted: ‘Fetishism and a hint of S&M lurk just beneath the surfaces of Hunter’s photographs … Her rage at capitalism is focused upon the mass media which have, as Judith Williamson puts it, been “selling us ourselves for profit”.’
Fear of the Intellectual Wife (1987)
Although best known for her photography, in the early 1980s Alexis Hunter turned to more expressive painterly compositions. Part of Hunter’s ‘Trigger Series’, Fear of the Intellectual Wife was painted quickly from mainly non-visual sources. In the work the figure embodies its own mental state: the huge brain of the clever wife dominates and drowns out the pale grey of her husband’s head. Yet the crimson paint used to represent the woman makes the form of the head look almost like a pregnant womb. It is a humorous representation of the social expectations imposed on men and women, and the impact which they have on our personal relationships. Painted in the 1980s, Fear of the Intellectual Wife is part of her shift from photography to more expressive painterly compositions in the 1980s.