In 2003, an Australian artist named Oliver Hunter contacted me for permission to create a handmade book titled The Spine Witch, inspired by a fictional book created by a character in my novel The Wood Wife. Permission was duly given, and I was subsequently charmed and enchanted by the finished object when Oliver’s project was completed. It was my first glimpse into the deeply mythic world of this extraordinary young artist whose aesthetic influences seemed to echo so many of my own, ranging from the Pre–Raphaelite painters and Golden Era illustrators of 19th century England through Remedios Varo and other Surrealist artists of the 20th century to Brian Froud, Alan Lee and other myth–inspired artists working today.Oliver’s work rests firmly in this tradition, yet he brews the ingredients of myth, folklore, fantasy, poetry, and the numinous world of his native landscape into a unique alchemy that is all his own.
Born and raised in Canberra, Australia, Oliver studied at Narrabundah College, majoring in painting, philosophy and literature, as well as dabbling in ceramics and theatre design. Working in almost all mediums, his art has been featured in a calendar for the Department of Education and e–published on the "Word Candy" site through the ACT Writer’s Centre. He has exhibited at The National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Youth Theatre’s "ZAPT!" events, created sets and visuals for Narrabundah College’s "Alice Unplugged,"and Centerpiece Theatre’s "The Miser," as well as constantly working on his own art and writing. Upcoming projects include "Post No Bills" — a collaborative endeavor via the medium of the postal service, illustrations for various zines together with a couple of his writer friends, and an updated online art resource in place of his former Muse Hill website. At the moment he is readying himself for further study at Melbourne University, Victoria, in 2006, where he hopes to continue working broadly throughout the arts.
"I was born in Canberra in 1986, and have lived here ever since. I have always lived in a very creative environment. Initially, my parents, my younger brother and I stayed with my Croatian grandparents in a big old house, which was also home to two aunts, an uncle and a great–grandfather, Dida Mate, an amputee confined to his wheelchair. I have fond memories of the house in Chapman, with so many people living there at once. Mum and Dad were put up in the garage, where they’d constructed a semi–enclosed room from blankets,wall hangings and furniture, all cocooned around the only place of warmth, the bed. Adjacent was the tiny room I shared with my brother, which was little more than a niche with a door. My aunt Ljerka’s flat was at the bottom of the stairs — crammed with colourful books, paintings, art materials, fabrics etc.; all the magical debris of an artist. Her collection of Golden Era art and picture books was impressive, and made a lasting impact on my heart. Books like Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s Faeries, were read to me from a very young age. Dida Mate had a smallworkshop where he carved endless boats and wooden fish. The garden was a place for picnics and dreaming, the kitchen floor the ideal landscape for adventures with lego–bocks.
"After this my family moved to a block of land at the edge of the newly–created southern suburbs, where my father designed and built the tin and cedar clapboard house where I have lived for most of my life. Originally it started small, but gradually, as two more children came along, the house underwent no less than five extensions in all directions (usually at 45 degree angles to the former sections of house), and soon it was a labyrinthine creature ringed with trees, courtyards loud with bees and lavender, and flanked by sundecks.Most of my childhood was spent tearing around the circular garden with my brother, or up in the hills of the Rob Roy range staging wars or just exploring. I especially value these times I had to myself in the Australian bush. I’ve always had an overactive imagination: every group of boulders looked like a ruined castle, every patch of trees was an enchanted forest, each little path made by mysterious feet. I remember giving my own names to everything, Rhinoceros Hill, Echo’s House, The Mansion, Theodore Dragon, the Witch . . . there was not one scrap of land or stone that didn’t have some sort of significance to me in my imagination.
"Naturally, as I grew up I drew all of the things I’d invented or pillaged from storybooks, movies, and games with my brother. I read the school library out of fantasy books and picture books. I filled journals and reams of scrap paper with esoteric maps, tiny sketches of characters, diagrams, minutely–detailed (and somewhat obsessive) stories. I continued these habits throughout highschool, and was somehow confused with somebody who could draw . . .
"As I started college I became more serious about art. I researched art history with relish, and began to build up a sizeable collection of reference books. The other arts also tempted me, such as writing and music, but both of these I preferred to keep as complementary to the visual arts. I do write, as I always have, and profusely, but nothing has ever compelled me to make myself a Writer or a Musician. They always seemed such lofty ideals, and since I was never really quite committed to or good at either, I stuck with what I was able to do best: expressing my imagination through pictures."
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On the pages that follow, you find more of Oliver’s work, along with excerpts from his journals pertaining to art and myth, scraps of mythical stories and poems, and descriptions of life in Canberra and on the Australian coast . . .