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Margaret Hunter: a Jungian Analysis

By Anna Lisa Stone | University of St Andrews | School of Art History

Chapter 1: Glasgow 1981 - 1985


Figure 3 Margaret Hunter, Girl at the Window, 1984
Painted in sea-washed shades of lavender and heather, the girl standing by the window almost fades into the furniture around her; she is even decorated with flowers like the vase on the table. Girl at the Window [3] is typical of the paintings Margaret Hunter was producing in the early 1980s at the Glasgow School of Art. The idyllic Scottish landscape, domestic interior and “romantic” handling of the paint synthesise a pastiche of inherited traditional Scottish styles.1

This chapter will examine why an artist whose work by the end of the 1980s would be defined by a unique and palpably authentic psychological self-engagement, should have started out in this way. It was a period of which Hunter says herself: “I didn’t know where I was going.”2 It is important to address this stage of her career in some detail as I believe that the shapes, symbols and style that dominate her later work are characterised by an attempt to clear the psychological blockage that was set up during this time in Scotland. I will argue that in order to overcome the pragmatic obstacles that she faced by starting art school as a mother, Hunter had to embrace the kind of qualities Jung would attribute to her “inner animus”.3 Yet I will suggest that having essentially to “be a man” to survive complicated her ability to engage authentically with female experience on the canvas. I will further suggest that the cultural environment of Scotland itself, which will be shown to be pervasively, and in some cases oppressively, masculine, made it difficult for Hunter to engage with the feminine side of her psyche. The result, as this chapter will show, was that Hunter was reduced to employing conventional tropes of expression as she struggled to express a kind of experience that was not encouraged in her native cultural landscape.4 However, I will assert that it was a desire for liberation of thought and expression that then prompted her transformative move to Berlin to study with Baselitz and that it was precisely this hunger for a denied self-expression that forced Hunter to engage with her inner animus, without which the move to Germany would not have been possible.

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Enrolling at the Glasgow School of Art in 1981, after years of contenting herself with evening art classes at the local high school, was a childhood dream come true for Margaret Hunter.5 However, at the age of 33, recently divorced and the mother of two young teenagers, she faced practical difficulties shared by few of her fellow students. These included a 90-mile round trip commuting from her home village of Fairlie on Scotland’s west coast to Glasgow every day, then leaving the college early to look after her children in the evening. There is no doubt that to overcome these difficulties Hunter had to draw on courage, physical strength and vast stores of determination, all of which are attributes which Jung assigns to the “masculine” side of the female psyche, what he calls the “animus”.6 In her landmark essay, “On the Nature of the Animus” (1931) Emma Jung, Carl Jung’s wife, theorised that by bringing these inner, archetypically masculine, qualities to the forefront of the female psyche, the animus can lend the woman in question effective aid: those who have done so successfully, she observes, are “active, energetic, brave and forceful women”.7 Significantly, the American art historian Linda Nochlin reaches the same conclusion about women in the history of art generally:

It is only by adopting, however covertly, the “masculine” attributes of single-mindedness, concentration, tenaciousness, and absorption in ideas and craftsmanship for their own sake that women have succeeded, and continue to succeed, in the world of art Indeed, for Hunter it was not just a matter of success, but of survival: “I had to put a whole lot extra into achieving my goal. But it was a second chance in life and I knew that I had to take my ambitions as far as I could if we were to survive.”9

It is at least arguable, then, that Hunter’s enrolment at the Glasgow School of Art marked not only the start of her career as an artist, but also the beginnings of a psychological tug-of-war as she battled to adopt those “masculine attributes” while simultaneously maintaining her elemental, “feminine” role as a mother. In Chapter Two I will argue that the separation and reconciliation of those two sides of her psyche, or “Self”, helped to define her work for almost two decades.10 As we will see, that process was accompanied by marked artistic progress.11 Yet the paintings she produced over the next four years at art school show little sign of her potential. They do, on the other hand, seem to evidence an early tension between the masculine principles she had to adopt and her own intrinsic interest in the female experience. This can be seen in her schizophrenic approach to subject matter, her compositions swinging from traditional treatments of women in domestic interiors [3], [5], to energetic but unconvincing renditions of traditional (male) Expressionist motifs in her Ship of Fools series [4].12 Both attempts lack any real sense of conviction.


Figure 4a Margaret Hunter, Ship of Fools I,
1985

Figure 4b Margaret Hunter, Ship of Fools II,
1985

She also wrestled to find lucid expression, her frustration erupting into frenzied brushstrokes and over-worked surfaces. Significantly, this problem was particularly severe in works that concerned female experience, such as Girl Going Downstairs [5]. With its unusual perspective and splashes of paint, the painting teeters on the precipice of flamboyancy; but that energy eventually seems to tumble into annoyance and dissatisfaction, resulting in unresolved forms and ugly brush marks. It was a painting, Hunter remembers, that “had a lot of promise, but I didn't quite know where to go with it after that and eventually it was painted over.”13


Figure 5 Margaret Hunter, Girl Going Downstairs. 1985

The application of Jungian theory would suggest that by engaging determinedly with the “masculine” side of her psyche, Hunter summoned the personal attributes necessary to overcome the practical obstacles of art school. But the paintings she was producing there reveal a struggle in exploring female experience with any authenticity or ease. This is where it is again enlightening to turn to Jungian theory, as it would suggest that the two are interlinked. As Emma Jung theorised: “It is true that what is primarily feminine is overrun and repressed by the autocratic entrance upon the scene of this masculinity,” but, she concludes, “the feminine element can only get into its right place by a detour that includes coming to terms with the masculine factor, the animus.”14 Carl Jung calls this “coming to terms” with the two sides of one’s psyche the “process of individuation”,15 and in Chapter Two I will argue that a similar process can be traced in the radical new work that Hunter produced in Berlin. Yet why did Margaret Hunter have to go to Berlin to reconcile these two sides? Why could that feminine element not “get into its right place” in Scotland? I would argue there are two main reasons.

The Scottish Cultural Context

Before examining the cultural context in which she was operating, we should first dispense with the notion that Hunter’s struggle with authentic expression can be explained, or excused, by her status as a student. While some level of expressive experimentation may be expected from students at art school, that this could be the definitive reason behind Hunter’s impediment does not hold weight when we compare her work to that being produced by some of her fellow students. Their experimentation was unleashing not brittle self-doubt, but powerful, striking, authentic assertiveness. The year after Hunter matriculated at the Glasgow School of Art, Stephen Campbell (1953-2007) and Adrian Wisniewski (b.1958) graduated in a flurry of media attention attracted by the power and monumental use of the human figure in their summer degree show. Art critic and curator Clare Henry recalls their mixed yet, crucially, noteworthy reception: “Campbell and Wisniewski’s massive powerful expressionist paintings were greeted with a mixture of delight, astonishment and dismay. Either way everyone sat up and took notice.”16


Figure 6 Stephen Campbell, Hiker's Ballet with Yawning Child, 1983

Campbell in particular stood out for the bewildering inventiveness and originality of his compositions.17 The impenitent novelty of a painting like Hiker’s Ballet with Yawning Child [6], with its unexplained scenario and baffling assemblage of arcane objects, throws the hackneyed tropes of Hunter’s Ship of Fools series into relief. One might, of course, argue that Campbell owes the mature and authentic artistic vision he developed at the GSA to his unique talent and the outstanding scope of his imagination. However, we should remember that he was joined in his rise to prominence by Wisniewski and two other GSA alumni, Peter Howson (b. 1958) and Ken Currie (b.1960), who graduated in 1981 and 1983 respectively, each with different but equally resolved artistic outlooks. This suggests that individual talent was not the sole reason why one group of artists working in the same country, the same city, the same art school, at the same moment of history as Margaret Hunter should have produced work of outstanding autonomy and imaginative depth while she graduated with Ship of Fools as her pinnacle of achievement.18 I would posit that the real reason for the stark contrast in their work is that those artists are men and she is a woman who was struggling to find an authentic artistic voice in the profoundly masculine culture of 1980s Scotland.

In Scottish Art in the 20th Century, Duncan Macmillan describes 1979 as “a watershed in the modern Scottish consciousness.”19 In March of that year, the long-awaited referendum on Scottish devolution, Scotland’s chance to wrest back a measure of control over its affairs from Westminster, failed to carry the required level of popular assent. To the need to make up for that flaccid political performance can be traced much of the artistic and literary effort in the following decade to assert Scottish achievement on the international stage. In 1984, for instance, Edwin Morgan published his collection of unashamedly Scottish-centric poems, Sonnets from Scotland, as “a kind of comeback, an attempt to show that Scotland was there, was alive and kicking”.20 Alexander Moffat, Margaret Hunter’s tutor at the Glasgow School of Art, says his large group portrait Poets’ Pub (1980) [7] was born out of a similar spirit of defiance: “it seemed imperative to make a positive statement about Scotland and Scottish culture.”21 His statement celebrates an earlier generation of poets surrounding the towering figure of Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), whose efforts towards a 20th century Scottish Renaissance – a modern, identifiably national but simultaneously international art – symbolised, for Moffat, the best in Scottish culture.

The Vigorous Imagination exhibition of 1987, with its celebration of figuration based on community and narrative, would also boast of the “new-found Scottish confidence,”22 yet had equally assertive precedents stretching from John Bellany (b.1942) to David Wilkie (1785-1841). However, in restoring the aesthetic ideals and ambitions of previous generations, it can be argued that the work of modern Scottish artists and writers subliminally endorsed other values of that generation as well, such as relations between the genders, classes, racial groups and differing sexual orientations.23 As Christopher Whyte notes, Moffat’s 1980 painting, lionising the pillars of Scottish cultural past, every one of them a man, was “emblematic” of the identity Scotland would present to the world over the next decade: white, heterosexual24 and uncompromisingly male.25 That “watershed in the modern Scottish cultural consciousness” seems in fact less a revolutionary turn-around of ideas than a restatement of decidedly old-fashioned Scottish values.

This, then, was the cultural climate in which Margaret Hunter began her course at Glasgow College of Art – a climate in which her “feminine element” was far from being encouraged or championed. Literature was defined by the gritty ferocity of the Glasgow-based writings of Tom Leonard, James Kelman’s male, working-class perspective and Ian Rankin’s hard-nosed, hard-drinking Inspector Rebus. The paintings being produced in her college were being loudly celebrated for their thickly painted, defiantly figurative, sometimes brutish and always masculine attributes. Taken together, the overwhelming majority of books, poems and paintings championed as the apotheosis of Scottish cultural achievement in the 1980s did not just focus on men, they often disparaged, belittled or completely ignored female experience.26 In her reader’s guide to Ian Rankin’s award-winning crime novel Black and Blue, the literary critic Gill Plain corrects a claim the author made in an interview in 1998 saying that he could not write about women. “The remark was perhaps a touch disingenuous,” observes Plain. “It is probably fairer to say that he simply does not write about women.”27


Figure 7 Alexander Moffat, Poet's Pub, 1980
The poet and playwright Liz Lochhead (b.1947), appointed Scotland’s Makar in 2011, was one of a very few women who managed to make her voice heard at the time. Yet she explains that a central reason for her success was that female experience had been so completely overlooked to begin with. She recalls: “There was a huge hunger for any kind of female point of view at all in ... the Scottish cultural landscape.”28 This was the culture in which Hunter was striving to define her voice. It begins to be less surprising to see her approaching the female experience with such an uncertain and confused touch in a painting like Girl Going Downstairs.

The Return to Figuration

Another potent reason why Hunter could not get in touch authentically with what Emma Jung describes as her “feminine element” is that the very mode of painting in which she was working was itself traditionally antithetical to the experience she was trying to express.

Hunter was a figurative painter. Accompanying the figurative revival in Europe throughout the 1960s and 70s, led by Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz and the Neue Wilden (New Wilds) in Germany and Sandro Chia’s Italian Transavantgarde, there was an emerging school of thought arguing that figurative painting was an intrinsically phallocentric activity, rich with overtones of masculine aggression and the depersonalisation of women.29 This came to a head with the publication in 1981, the year Hunter started at art school, of Benjamin Buchloh’s famous polemic “Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting”. Buchloh essentially argued that the figurative revival in Europe was conservative and regressive, seeking “cultural legitimisation” for out-dated value systems through the traditional authority of high art. 30 This was particularly pertinent to relationships between the sexes:

At a time when cultural production in every field is becoming increasingly aware of, if not actively countering, the oppression of traditional role distinctions based on the construction of sexual difference, contemporary art … returns to the concepts of psychosexual organisation that date from the origins of bourgeois character formation.31

In the summer of 1985 Hunter graduated from Glasgow School of Art, psychologically stunted and profoundly unsatisfied with the work she had produced.32 Eventually Hunter would go on to confound Buchloh’s argument by demonstrating how powerful figurative art could be as a mode of conveying essentially female experience. It is ironic that it would be one of the founders and most aggressive proponents of masculine-centred art33 who would enable her to do this.

Georg Baselitz (born Hans-Georg Kearn in 1938) was an artist whose self-professed aim was to drag what was repressed to the forefront of human consciousness.34 The first time she saw Baselitz’ work, in the Stedelijk Museum during an art school trip to Amsterdam towards the end of her course, Margaret Hunter was “bowled over” and “astounded” by the power of his single-figure paintings.35 Clearly the single figure was already important to her: the majority of her “finished” paintings from art school – such as Girl at the Window, Girl Going Downstairs and her paintings from the Ship of Fools series – are all essentially single-figure compositions. But what seemed to excite Hunter about Baselitz was his ability to depict these figures free from transient details and localised settings. “They were condensed depictions and direct – he wasn’t giving loads of distraction in the background,” she remembers. “I found his paintings just so powerful because of that.”36 Divorced from their customary contexts, Baselitz’s single-human figures transcend historical, social and geographical boundaries and address the essential elements of humanity. These same qualities would eventually come to characterise Margaret Hunter’s work.

When Hunter returned from Amsterdam and discovered that Baselitz was a professor in the Hochschule der Künste, the prestigious College of Art in Berlin, she determined to study under his tutelage. However, financial difficulties and official intransigence impeded her: at the age of 37 she was told she was too old to apply for a German study scholarship, for instance. To go would also mean leaving her children behind with her parents, moving to a country whose language she could not speak and taking up residence in a city cut in two by the Cold War.

To understand Hunter’s decision to go ahead and tackle those obstacles, it is helpful to return to the theories of Jung. As stated previously, Jung argued that a woman’s “animus” personifies courage, bravery and an enterprising spirit. However he also theorises that engagement with the animus often causes a great “wounding” of the Self, as it means the woman must push those inherently feminine principles of motherhood and emotional attachment from the forefront of her conscious.37 His theory proposes that this causes a split in the psyche.38

Hunter, who had to choose between separating from her children and pursuing her artistic vision, felt that she was being ripped apart.39 This is fundamental for understanding Hunter’s later art that would be characterised by splits and divisions and a subliminal preoccupation with motherhood. However, a further engagement with her animus, Jung would argue,40 is evidenced by her resolution to achieve her goal: “I got pretty far at the Art School, and I couldn’t be half-hearted. Berlin had to be the next step, but it was also a jump into the deep end.” Thus, by applying those “masculine” principles of bravery, forcefulness and emotional resilience, Hunter arrived in Berlin in October 1985.

Footnotes

1 Hunter’s use handling of paint, content and composition strongly recall paintings by Scottish artists like James Robertson (1931-2010) and David Donaldson (1916-96); the painting might also be identified as in the tradition of artists like Anne Redpath (1895-1965) who painted almost exclusively in the domestic sphere and Joan Eardley (1921-63) who took children and landscapes as the twin themes throughout her career (although I am consciously overlooking the pronounced social engagement of Eardley’s Glasgow paintings).
2 Letter from artist, 29 March 2011.
3 C. Jung. Archetypes, 318.
4 Lochhead, Liz, Interview by author, 9 January 2011, Hillhead, Glasgow, Tape recording.
5 Appendix.
6 Jung, Archetypes, 183.
7 Emma Jung, Animus and Anima, trans. Cary F. Baynes; Hildegard Nagel (New York: The Analytical Psychology Club, 1956; 1972), 4.
8 Linda Nochlin, ‘Why Have The Been No Great Women Artists?’, Women, Art and Power, and Other Essays, ed. Linda Nochlin (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989), 170.
9 Appendix, p.8
10 In Chapter Three I use the date 1998 as the start of another and different change in Hunter’s work.
11 Alexander Moffat, Changing Places, 2.
12 The clowns and harlequins of this series of paintings strongly recall motifs exhausted in the later work of Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann and John Bellany.
13 Email from the artist, 29.03.2011
14 E. Jung, 12-13.
15 C. Jung, Archetypes, 159.
16 Clare Henry, The Vigorous Imagination: New Scottish Art (Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 1987), 19.
17 Macmillan, 143.
18 Hunter’s Ship of Fools was painted for her Degree Show in 1985.
19 MacMillan, 143.
20 Edwin Morgan, Nothing Not Giving Messages, ed. Hamish Whyte (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990), 141.
21 Alexander Moffat, Arts of Resistance, ed. Alan Bold and Alexander Moffat (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2009), 50.
22 Henry, 19.
23 Whyte, x.
24 Edwin Morgan was actually homosexual but did not declare his sexuality publically until the end of the 1980s, just before his 70th birthday (Liz Lochhead, Interview by author).
25 Whyte, x.
26 Whyte, x-xi.
27 Gill Plain, Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue: a Reader’s Guide (New York; London: Continuum, 2002), 47.
35 Margaret Hunter, “A Life in Translation”, Lecture Notes for the A.H.M. Symposium, Edinburgh, 2 April 2011,, 1.
36 Appendix.
37 C. Jung, Symbols,169.
38C. Jung, Archetypes, 270.
39 Appendix.
40 C. Jung, Archetypes, 216.

Copyright © Anna Lisa Stone 2011