Magazine article Artforum International

Peter Hutton: 1944-2016

Magazine article Artforum International

Peter Hutton: 1944-2016

Article excerpt

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PETER HUTTON, who died on June 25 at the age of seventy-one, made motion pictures that are above all extended exercises in the rapture of looking. He specialized in long takes--of landscapes, seascapes, and cityscapes--in which the motion is subtle, fleeting, gradual, capillary. His movies, always shot on film and completely silent, invite sustained contemplation as well as spacing out, daydreaming. They lure the viewer into the frame, where the images can be absorbed by the body while the mind goes on a little vacation. They are "austerely romantic," as J. Hoberman wrote in his New York Times obituary on the filmmaker. They are full of hard-earned knowledge of the world--the natural as well as the human--and yet they always seek to return to first principles, to vision unmediated by spectacle, to rhythms primarily informed by weather and the earth's rotation.

Peter was one of my best friends at Bard College, where he started teaching in 1984, and we overlapped across seventeen years. He was a regular guy, toothpick forever in a corner of his mouth. (We shared a lengthy struggle with nicotine, which is what eventually killed him.) Peter didn't talk like an academic, possessed a constant buoyant sense of humor, and loved to hang out. He was a proud issue of Detroit, which is virtually the first thing I knew about him, and he maintained a midwestern openness and a factory-town lack of bullshit to the end. He loved all the visual arts, but film was of supreme importance in his daily life. Dinner at his house was invariably followed by a screening--always an actual projection--either of something he was working on or of some cinematic classic from the college's collection, of which he was the most frequent and enthusiastic patron.

He was the complex product of his complex formation. His father, Don, was a New Yorker who brought bohemian inclinations with him to the Motor City, among other things starting a film club, where he showed a lot of Jacques Tati. He also encouraged Peter to do as he had done and join the merchant marine as part of his education. Peter shipped out for over a decade, going all over the world, logging multiple passages through South and Southeast Asia. He moved to Honolulu (and eventually to San Francisco) to be closer to the freight traffic, and while studying in Hawaii came under the influence of Asian art teachers who inculcated in him a meditative visual discipline. …

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