A Sense of Abandon: Colin Hill

Posted: November 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Painting | No Comments »
What are your feelings on the position of abstract art in today’s art world?
The art world is of no concern for an artist. What I do is make art, that art is abstract. I have no feelings about the place of abstract art. It is something that I am driven to do, so I am out there doing it. It is not a choice. I cannot state exactly what it is that I am doing, or chasing, which is in itself is something that I love about seeing the world this way. There is an elusive and mysterious quality to the process and try as I might to tie it down, it changes right in front of me. Therein lays the chase.

Your titles always intrigue me. I strongly feel a title can often make or break a work of art, and yours add a level of excitement to the piece. How do you come up with yours?
It is my goal to be evocative but vague. Since the work is non-representational titles are somewhat irrelevant. Yet they can certainly make or break a piece as you have said. Language carries with it countless implications and ideas and I do not want to influence the viewer’s interpretation with insignificant language which could act as distraction from what it is that I am attempting to convey.

In Islamic religious art, which is everywhere in Saudi, geometric designs and patterns are the only depictions of God and other sacred concepts. There are no representations of the “face” of God or anything else other than geometric designs. Looking back on this now I can see how profound of an effect it had on my developing creative spirit.

Who are the most exciting people in contemporary art for you right now?
Tell you the truth I have been somewhat withdrawn from the world of art and been holed up in the studio for quite a while now. As a result I am not very aware about the happenings in the art world at the moment. There are some people whose work has caught my eye; Wolf Kahn, Judy Pfaff, Andy Goldsworthy, Tahiti Pehrson, Janet Drever, to name few.
I like to talk to artists a lot about what informs their work. Could you talk a little bit about what specific influences or experiences have informed your work?
My life has been shaped, as is everyone’s, by my experiences. I have lived in many places, both domestic and abroad. My first memories are of living in Bahrain and then Saudi Arabia. The impressions left on me through being in such a place played an enormous role in my developments as an individual and artist. In Islamic religious art, which is everywhere in Saudi, geometric designs and patterns are the only depictions of God and other sacred concepts. There are no representations of the “face” of God or anything else other than geometric designs. Looking back on this now I can see how profound of an effect it had on my developing creative spirit. A few years later, after my family had moved to the States, I went through a period where I became somewhat obsessed with geometric shapes. I would burn through stacks of paper with pen and ruler trying to make these three dimensional looking stars constructed of “perfectly” straight and even lines, with very little success I recall. My Mom was not too happy about the paper consumption. But I had a need to do it, I was working something out.

The power this all had over shaping my design sensibility was such that I saw how it was possible to convey meaning and, greater than that, metaphysics by way of a visual language which was not rooted in a realm of literal form. I have long since shed the use of symmetry, “perfection” and literal geometry to employ these tools in a freer more intuitive way, in search of those sacred elements which reside in and on space and plane. At the Guggenheim with my school when I was about 10, I saw my first abstract expressionist work in person. I was blown away. It was a huge moment for me, and I can remember thinking to myself, “I want to do this”.

Your sense of color and movement are quite exciting. As far as color goes, is this a completely intuitive thing, or do you plan ahead and “collect” colors that you plan on using?
More often than not my palette is a product of intuition. I do not really plan my paintings, when I do it goes horribly wrong, so color is something that just sort of appears on the canvas according to the moment. If it works, that’s great, if not, it serves to add a sense of history to the canvas which is something that intrigues me and is a definite part of the process. Sort of like collecting stamps in a passport. This idea of the canvas having a sense of story or depth due to accumulation and gradual addition and subtraction of color holds a great deal of interest to me.
How is scale important to your work?
There is something transcendent about standing in front of and working on a large painting that allows one to be consumed by the work. It is a glimpse into something that is seldom felt. A moment of moksha.

We are in the mountains of the far northeast corner of Idaho, and the west entrance to Yellowstone park is only forty minutes from us. The town has a population of 215. I am sure this is the smallest town I will ever live in. The owner of a local restaurant was attacked by a grizzly last week, he is doing well, and we see a lot of moose and foxes.

Process is something I always want to know more about. Though we’ve been friends for years, I’ve never seen you approach a blank canvas. Walk me through your process, from the conception of the idea to the finished work.
Well, first and foremost I stretch the canvas. I enjoy this construction phase. It allows for a connection to the substrate to be formed which fosters a love, or sometimes, hate, relationship. Conception is often shaped by the very first marks on the canvas. I follow this path and see where the marks take me. What I am looking for is some kind of rhythm; I want the colors to lay next one another and have a kind of conversation with one another. Lately I have been experimenting with washes and thinner builds, on top of which I might add thicker paint in certain areas at the end. Painting like this seems to be a little more strategic as there is a minimal use of color and thusly the use of color and ways in which these colors are applied is of greater significance.
Fairly recently, you’re life has changed with the inclusion of a new family member—your baby daughter. How has having a child changed your perspective or the way you work?
She has definitely flexed some muscle and exerted some regularity onto my studio life and creative life. I can work at home, drawings, stuff like that, but most of my work is done at the studio and it has been good to have more consistent work hours there. As a parent I am a more patient man now. I can see that patience in the way I work now. There is a calmness that wasn’t there before which is something I had not expected.

Do you find that people compare your work to the abstract expressionists of the last century? How would you describe the difference of your art from theirs?
I would expect there to be some comparisons made. I am taking their lead in something that has more to offer than just a fleeting fad. That group of artists pioneered something wonderful. The differences, though, are in the theory and more simply the application of paint itself. As a movement, they were moving away from form and depth and toward an idea of the super-flat. They were abstracting cubism, which was already flattening form, and taken that much further by removing subject and object to work only with color and application technique. I am concerned with flatness only in how it might serve as counterpoint to the deeper fields in other areas on the picture plane. I see it as implied flatness with an allusion to depth.
You lived in San Francisco up until a couple of years ago. How has moving to a place like Idaho, that is much more rural, affected your mindset and your work in general?
Moving here was pretty shocking at first. We are in the mountains of the far northeast corner of Idaho, and the west entrance to Yellowstone park is only forty minutes from us. The town has a population of 215. I am sure this is the smallest town I will ever live in. The owner of a local restaurant was attacked by a grizzly last week, he is doing well, and we see a lot of moose and foxes. Our house is right on a very large reservoir so summertime is full of water activities. Winter is long, last year we had about twelve and a half feet of snow all said and done, and there were patches of snow lying around in late June. So winter is a good time to be working in the studio. You get pretty tired of seeing white.

What are some of the biggest struggles you’ve come up against in your life as a visual artist?
It can be difficult sometimes to reign in tendencies, and control the flow in an attempt to seek out balance. Remaining true to your convictions is a frequent test, but that is perhaps the most important factor. I often find myself in a predicament where I am feeling overwhelmed, like I have lost it. Those are the special moments where we define ourselves. Problem solving skills and perseverance are not to be taken for granted.
What are some of the greatest triumphs?
The triumphs are the flip side of those struggles. Finding myself in that fog and emerging from it a better, smarter, painter with a keener insight to myself. Quitting a work at just the right moment is a feeling that holds a special place.
How do you feel about collaborations?
I think that collaborations can be very exciting and interesting. Obviously who one is working with makes all the difference. Project Runway shows that very well. I have no aversion to trying one, although I do feel that some kind of plan going into the work would be a necessity. I think that I would like to do one with an artist who works in realism, to see the juxtapositions working against and with one another could be cool.

You’re classically trained as a painter, and can paint the human figure, landscape, and still life with great skill. Is this something you still keep up, or do you prefer to work solely in the abstract realm?
I still work in those areas as well, not so much still life. Living where I live it is impossible not to work from the landscape sometimes. I feel that all of these forms relate to one another and it is up to us to see that. There are techniques one can take from one discipline and use in the other with great success. And in all truth it is the failures we learn from. I am all about trying new things out with paint and other media, I love that experimentation. That is an exciting thing, to get lost in the qualities of the medium and move forward with a sense of abandon.
Random last question: You can choose to be any animal. What do you choose and why?
We have a lot of ravens up here. They are called dumpster chickens by the locals. Despite the unflattering term, I think I would choose a raven. They are unusual animals and they have a lot of unique qualities. They represent the trickster in the mythology of more than one culture. That says a lot about a creature.


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