Cory Hunter slowly drags the tip of a metal rod across a cardboard canvas. Long, branching patterns emerge on the surface as sparks of electricity flare out.
Hunter studied chemical engineering at the University of Florida, but now he's an artist who paints with high-voltage electricity.
The branching patterns that have become a staple of his paintings are something that typically happens in nature -- usually as a result of lightning striking a tree, the air, or another “non-conductor.”
“Most of the time, it happens accidentally,” Hunter says. “If you have high-voltage wire that gets exposed and let’s say, it’s on a non-conductor like plastic, all of a sudden it will create this amazing, branching tree pattern.”
Hunter’s process involves a special "paintbrush" made of a Tungsten electrode, gouache paint, electrical wires and two transformers that control the level of the voltage. When his paintbrush skates over the canvas, it burns and creates deep etchings that look like nerve endings. The paintbrush allows Hunter to have some control over an otherwise unpredictable phenomenon: electricity.
Hunter was recruited to UF because of his background in science and chemistry. At electrical engineering labs at UF, he started experimenting with high-voltage electricity on different materials, such as wood. From there, Hunter developed his "painting" process, figuring out how to manually adjust the patterns.
Hunter was also taking art classes at the time he was experimenting with electricity. He became interested in the ideas behind classical and oriental artwork.
“One of the main concepts with Japanese and Chinese work is the idea of the stroke being the most important thing,” he says. “It shows incredible skill and dexterity on the part of artist. When I was first starting, I just wanted to show the stroke of the electricity.”
Afterwards, Hunter started adding his own twist on the branching designs with paint. Much of his work features colorful Japanese cherry blossoms and a skyline of Miami, his hometown.
Hunter has exhibited at several venues in Miami, but he’s currently working on live performances, where he showcases the process of his work.
He’s also finishing his chemical engineering degree at Florida International University. His future goals include experimenting with high-voltage electricity on glass and on three-dimensional surfaces.
“I’m mostly going to learn more about what I’m doing,” he says. “That way I can use it in my work.”
Science is important to, not separate from, Hunter's art.
“I think a lot of people have been exposed to science in an academic setting and not in a natural setting,” he says. “When you walk around, when you’re breathing air, when you’re moving -- everything’s bound by these physical laws. Everything’s bound by physics, by science.”
Cory Hunter will paint live on June 6 at 6 p.m. at LMNT in Miami. To find out more about the event, click here.