American, born 1935
78 x 38 x 22 1/2 inches (198.1 x 96.5 x 57.2 cm)
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1959
Richard Hunt’s career in sculpture began in 1955 in his hometown of Chicago, where he was one of a handful of African American students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Icarus was made of welded steel only a year later, in 1956.
In making sculptures that had definite subjects, such as Icarus, Hunt combined different sculptural methods for representing a three-dimensional figure: concave and convex forms, forms projecting into space, and solid and hollow forms. He made many sculptures with what he called “steel and space,” referring to natural organic forms such as wings, branches, floral blossoms, torsos, and rocks, as well as characters from Greek mythology such as Pegasus, the winged mythological horse; Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods; and the winged Icarus seen here.
Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a master craftsman who built a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete to imprison the half-bull, half-man monster known as the Minotaur. Later, to escape the island of Crete after he fell from favor with the King, Daedalus crafted wings of wax and feathers for himself and Icarus, who died in the Aegean Sea after ignoring his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun.
Hunt has said, “I would say my own use of winged forms in the early ’50s is . . . about, on the one hand, trying to achieve victory or freedom internally. It’s also about investigating ideas of personal and collective freedom. My use of these forms has roots and resonances in the African American experience and is also a universal symbol. People have always seen birds flying and wished they could fly.”
Hunt has created an Icarus of welded steel whose forms and shapes remind us of humans, birds, and insects. The stunted-looking wings lack the feathers they might once have had, and might imply the flapping of human arms and the position of a body that is falling. One leg doubles as a long cylindrical tube that holds him suspended over the base of the sculpture, while also symbolizing rapid descent. The sculpture is just over six feet tall, making it taller than many people, but still allowing us to view Icarus as if he were one of us.
Related Lesson Plan
Daedalus and Icarus: Two Perspectives (For Grades K–8)
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