When Adam Boozer approached Tim Hussey about profiling him in a short documentary, Hussey wasn't expecting much.
He knew that Boozer was an accomplished creative director who was breaking away from commercial work, and wanted to do more personal projects. But he thought the biographical film Running by Sight would be a sweet little spot by a local guy.
"He showed me a teaser after the first day," says Hussey. "I said, 'Wow, I had no idea it was going to be this beautiful.'"
With a small but effective video camera and one assistant, Boozer sought to capture a year in the life of the internationally renowned fine artist. But his subject is no shameless Hussey.
"I didn't want it to be all about me," the painter insists. "It's not a blatant 'look at me, oh my God' film. It's his own piece of art."
Hussey knows a thing or two about art. He spent years as an illustrator and art director for national magazines before he threw all his energy into his own photography and painting, leaving New York for a Tennessee farm in the middle of nowhere with a tiny house and a barn to paint in. The fact that Hussey was able to transition from the maelstrom of Manhattan to two years of solitude says a lot about his hardy character.
"Filming there was the biggest thing for me emotionally," says Boozer, who returned to the farm with Hussey for the documentary. "It was totally unexpected, being inside his head and seeing how that transition was."
The quiet, industrious Boozer has spent a long time in Hussey's world, visiting local places that inspire him and recording his art process. "I had complete access all the time," the filmmaker says. "Several times I saw him painting and working for hours. His friends never have access to that. I saw that it was lonely to paint. It's a sometimes painful experience for him."
When the project began, Boozer estimated a run time of six or eight minutes. But as the film began to incorporate other elements — interviews with friends and gallery owners, visits to collectors' homes, and meeting people who had commissioned him — it changed. "It grew and grew," he says. "I did a lot of interviews with him. He wasn't uncomfortable so much as timid, because he was talking about things that are personal to him, verbalizing what he usually expresses in his paintings."
Although Hussey has an ardent following across the world, his work doesn't appeal to everyone. His portraits are shadowy swirls of black and gray, with paint dribbling down the canvas in a contemporary take on primitive art. He's like a kid playing with a coloring book, but he's not afraid to color outside the lines or show an angry, ugly side. Yet he also has a complete grasp of line, form, and value, enabling him to juxtapose classical and abstract figures to form a perplexing dream narrative.
One cartoonish character snatches at a snake. In another painting, a menacing storm cloud is linked to a bull. In another, chairs are uprooted by a tornado of paint. These images look and sound bizarre, but thanks to his commercial art background, Hussey is able to be outrageous enough to surprise his fans without alienating them. "I work from my gut," he says, "but my gut is made up of the audience. I like people to like my work."
A free film screening seems like the perfect way to connect with Hussey aficionados and introduce him to new collectors. Boozer explains, "I wanted to make something that people who don't know or haven't heard of Tim can watch, enjoy his story, and be exposed to it the way I was."
Running by Sight includes rich imagery, time-lapse photography, recognizable locales, and interviews with intelligent folks like Halsey Director Mark Sloan, gallery owner Rebekah Jacob, and artists Shepard Fairey and Jill Hooper.
Hussey hopes that these elements will entertain his audience — and, yes, teach them — without coming across like some sort of ego trip.