By GARY RYAN January, 2023
New York City, I’m here with artist/painter Amy Hill talking about her show that is presently up at Fortnight Institute on East Third Street in the East Village. (— thru February 4th)
So Amy, you just told me that what I recently read before by another author kind of mimicked what you said and didn't really give new insights upon your work. I actually felt like what that author wrote was off. I'm glad to hear that you felt a bit that way too...
Amy Hill — I feel like these are much more connected to New England folk art than to European art, and I’m glad to her that you agree. But I used to do European, I used to be inspired by European Renaissance art. So this turn is kind of new for me.
WM — But you've been doing this New England-ish thing for awhile, I think, certainly ever since I've known you.
Hill — I think, no, I was doing a lot of European Renaissance, okay, Northern Renaissance. But then I changed and just wanted to get inspiration elsewhere. Though to be honest, I cannot shed my roots in Renaissance painting.
Yet the New England folk artists looked at Renaissance paintings. Wow. So it's still there. Okay, awesome. The other thing I'm doing is just inventing on my own. Yeah, you know, there's no early New England painting with an elevator.
WM — Using your titles, you said “Tea” comes from a bad anonymous New England folk art painting that you found on the internet? And you said you like to find, reuse, and correct bad anonymous New England art?
Hill — Yeah, I wouldn't choose a good painting and copy it. So many people do that and it’s so boring. I like to find something with flaws, like anatomical flaws, compositional flaws. And I'm always correcting those flaws. Even when I go to a museum, I'm thinking, how could I fix this mistake or that mistake.
WM — You're gonna love this, a friend of mine, Lisa, found a painting up in Connecticut, a New England primitive, of a Quaker lady who is clearly missing an eye. If you had that painting, what would you do with it?
Hill — I would put the eye in right away.
If I go to a museum and something is wrong, I think I should get them, you know like, the breasts on the Madonnas are always too high? I always want to put them in Photoshop and lower them, and put them in their right place. It annoys me, you know. So in a way this is like a therapy for me.
WM — So you like to fix things?
Hill — Yeah.
WM — Which you know, just yesterday I was reading something about Sally Mann (the photographer). I actually saw a little video by Sally Mann where she is saying that.
she only likes photographs where something is surprising or out of place or not quite right, there's something that makes a photograph like that interesting, that throws it into the realm of the unusual.
Hill — What I wonder about all the time is in fixing everything and trying to make everything perfect, am I making it un-interesting? Yeah, like I fight between being naive, which I am, being naive and being anatomically accurate, you know …
WM — When you say naive, you went to art school?
Hill — I went to, no, I studied graphic design.
WM — Oh, okay. So you're a little bit of an outsider.
Hill — I kind of like naive painting. And I can't do it because it's not correct. I fight between that. Like this one … “Young Woman with Strange Object.” (illustrated at the top of this page)
WM — Oh, yes, “Young Woman with Strange Object” …
Hill — This one is a little naive, right? — it's not there's no perspective, it's just flat and I like that.
WM — Although interestingly this car (in the painting) almost looks like it could be out of … oh, who's the guy who painted the boxers?
Hill — You mean Bellamy? George Bellamy? (We both meant George Bellows.)
WM — Yeah, yeah. Or somebody folk art-ish who has flat … but this is not flat (pointing at small car image in the painting) …
Hill — No, that's interesting because I just stuck that on.
WM — Okay, so the car, you stuck on the car.
Hill — This is to me, this is totally naive. I took it, I stole it from a bad painting. And then I put her on top. She … who knows where she is?
WM — And she has this little Tesla thing (a Tesla plasma globe) in her hand.
Hill — Now that is, I don’t know …
WM — With this Tesla globe in her hand.
Hill — I don't know what that is. So I had to, you know, make her hands correct, make her arms correct. You know, it's a combination.
WM — But I am noticing with her, especially with her, she has a little bit of a bloated aspect. And the other writer mentioned something about Botero. How do you feel about that? Are you comfortable with that?
Hill — I love that, I love Botero, but I don't want to have a personal style too much because I think it takes away from what's going on in the picture. You know, Botero is all about the Botero. It doesn't matter what he paints, he's always going to be Botero. And I want to like try to make social commentary, like in the first one, you know, or ‘Zoom’, the Zoom one, you know, like there's a story going on.
WM — Yes. And then this one, (“Messenger”) there's a Citi-bike and a smart car, um, which is kind of cool.
Hill — Yeah, it’s about contemporary life. I want to paint what I see. And I do like to make everything bloated. I like that.
WM — Why is that?
Hill — I don't know.
WM — Is it because you're not bloated? (Amy Hill is very light-framed, almost wispily so.)
Hill — Maybe, maybe yeah, because I think Botero was skinny. Also, who am I thinking of, Blackman? There was an illustrator, and he did these really big people. And it turned out he was like a Giacometti-figure. This might probably be my need to make something fat.
WM — That is interesting. I am so glad I'm talking to you. This is excellent.
Hill — Put that down.
WM — Well, it's all here.
Hill — Alright, but the other thing I don't like is brushstrokes. You'll notice there's no visible brushstrokes.
WM — Why is that?
Hill — I can't do them.
WM — You don't know how?
Hill — I don’t know how. Yeah, like this all is based on my limitations.
WM — So, so you paint feathery …
Hill — I paint glaze, there's no brushstrokes. I just keep piling on paint, then wait for it to dry, and put on another layer. This is like 20 layers, until it gets finished-looking.
WM — Now I see a little editing here. The city bikes are blue, but this bike is green.
Hill — I made it blue and it didn't work. Otherwise the leaves would have had to be blue …
WM — Got it. Got it. Although you snuck in a little blue with the square, the architect’s square.
Hill — A little accent.
WM — So, let's talk about the ‘Madonna and child’ here, ‘Family Breakfast.’
Hill — It was a really bad, long lost painting of these three at a table with food. And the food inspired me like, you know, what food do we eat today? There was like, they had bread, maybe milk. You know, but it's different today, we have gluten-free bread. I like to what do you call it, you know, update. I like to update everything.
WM — You even have a little product placement with the Sun-Maid raisins.
Hill — Well, they could pay me for that. I think it's fine to put products in Renaissance paintings. It's juxtaposition.
WM — It's interesting because he's cutting the cheese but …
Hill — He was in the original painting.
WM — But it's interesting how he's cutting cheese like nobody cuts cheese … he’s pulling it toward him like he’s cutting an apple or something.
Hill — … or making a piece of sculpture. In the original painting he was cutting cheese just like that, and she had this same thing with a bowl or something.
WM — So let me ask you about the Zoom painting, which is ‘Woman on Zoom’. Woman on Zoom, with the flowers behind — kind of cool. Were you copying something here?
Hill — Yes, ‘woman with book.’ It was a bad painting because her head was in this weird position in a way that I don't even think is possible. And I thought, okay, what is today's book? It's a computer. And I was doing it during COVID when everybody was Zooming. So I thought it'd be good if maybe it was a narrative about her being separated from her children. The Zoom figures are her children.
WM — Now, let me ask you about, I'll tell you what I'm trying to do … I’m trying to find one of these that reminds me a bit of Edward Hopper. But I don't quite see one that does, because they're not quite Edward Hopper’s style at all. I don't see alienation in any of these, quite the opposite, actually.
Hill — Really? I can see a lot of alienation.
WM — So is this alienation? This is two women on their phones. Two women on their phones who are indeed isolated from each other because they're on their phones. So this is perhaps a little Edward Hopper-esque?
Hill — Definitely. I used to paint without a light source, and this whole show has light source, and that’s my Edward Hopper. You know, even the moon here is creating light.
WM — So somebody asked Edward Hopper one time what he was doing, and he said I'm painting the light on the side of a barn.
Hill — Yes, he did. Because folklore is flat, there’s no light, I was getting tired of that.
WM — This one is “Young Woman in Outdoor Elevator.”
Hill — Notice the difference between side lighting, and also the light from this one is coming from the phones. And the light is coming from the moon. Here this one (‘Couple and Kid’) it’s all about light.
WM — Work with the light coming through the trees, filtering through the leaves of the trees, ‘Couple and Kid.’ And clearly, everything's spottled, speckled with the light filtering through the leaves. Also this one is not a ‘Madonna and child’?
Hill — No, this was from a naive painting, there were two people and a dog. So I turned the dog into a child. This is a little bit more of my invention. Like, I'm daring to be inventor. So I thought, well, what if I put them in Brooklyn? This reminds me of Brooklyn. Or I searched under Brooklyn for brownstones. And then I came upon a picture with a tree and light speckles. So that all came together. A lot of it comes from the internet.
WM — Now the guy, he's wearing a Darth Vader t-shirt.
Hill — Well, that's because clothing is so boring nowadays, that the only interesting thing we wear is logos, you know? What else do we wear? In the old days, if you had a nice dress, that would be the whole painting.
WM — Now, in this painting, the same painting we're talking about, I'm noticing in not all the windows, but in some of the windows, there's a definite total reflection of the trees.
Hill — Yeah, I copied it. I can't find that now. Yeah, this is the way it was in the original photo. So, you know, i don’t invent a lot. I’m more like a collage artist.
WM — I was gonna use that word. Yeah, it's almost like you're cutting things out of magazines. Putting them together.
Hill — Yes.
WM — So, talk to me about this one. This is ‘Shopper.’
Hill — Originally, I was going to have New York City as a theme, and I was taking pictures of the East River because I live near the East River, and I walk down there a lot. And so I took a picture of the skyline on the other side. And I think about shopping when I think about New York City. I don't even know where this came from, I just made up the face.
Hill — But you have a lot of good logos sticking out here. Well, I researched the stores.
WM — You have Barney's, Club Monaco … of course Barney's is gone. Saks Fifth Avenue.
Hill — … and Club Monaco. Yep. I don't even know if we have that anymore. And she's not into the environment. (The subject of the painting.)
WM — But ironically, although she's not into the environment, she's wearing earth-tones.
Hill — … and she likes the water.
WM — And she's wearing earphones, but not Apple earphones.
Hill — She's kind of like somebody I grew up with in New Jersey. They were very, you know, materialistic. And they had to have their white bag, too.
WM — Now, did your friend have one eye bigger than one? One eye bigger than the other eye, or one eye open more?
Hill — No, no, maybe everybody has two different eyes.
WM — This eye, this is so interesting. Because clearly one eye is so different, but you're really drawn into that difference.
Hill — See that’s one of those things, should I correct it?
WM — No, no, I like it.
Hill — It kind of makes it more interesting.
WM — That's interesting, because the East River here almost looks more like the ocean. It's very choppy.
Hill — That's my inadequacy and limitation, but it does get choppy on a windy day.
WM — So I want to come back to this one where the girl is wearing the Taylor Swift t-shirt, (“Young Woman in Outdoor Elevator”). And she's holding a skateboard that's very flowery. And this is kind of interesting to me that you were never part of skater culture?
Hill — No.
WM — You're not into Taylor Swift?
Hill — I heard her on the radio, and I thought she’s not that bad. And I needed something for the t-shirt. But also, what's interesting, I struggled the most with this painting. This is my biggest struggle.
WM — Really? Why?
Hill — I couldn't get anything right? It started out as a totally different pose. And I kept changing it. And somebody brought up that it was nice that there's some nature in the painting because it's on the skateboard.
WM — Yeah, there's there's flowers, fish, a park, the sun, and clouds.
Hill — Otherwise, it's very urban, it’s urban so that (the skateboard) gives it nature. And that is New York City in the background, somewhere, I don’t know where.
WM — That's interesting, because the Taylor Swift character on the t-shirt is almost correct. A little bloated, but almost correct. She looks almost more real than the woman in the painting.
Hill — And the idea was that she's an adult in an adult situation, like future presidents. You know, my only kind of thought is she’s a young girl in a revolving door, a revolving door making money in a corporate setting.
WM — Now I'm noticing three of the people, two of the girls and this one dad over here with the Darth Vader shirt they all have on Chuck Taylor sneakers, black Chuck Taylors, and then this woman has on Birkenstocks.
Hill — I call them Vans. Okay. Yeah. Chuck Taylor I never heard that.
WM — These, the sneakers? Or are they Vans? They look like Chuck Taylor’s. They’re the kind of basic Converse sneaker you see people wear.
Hill — Yeah, I like them because they're fun to paint. But I find them uncomfortable.
WM — I almost wore a pair today … So, what what do people miss about your work that you would like mentioned?
Hill — Well they always say that I'm a surrealist.
WM — Yeah, I don't see that.
Hill — Oh, good. I think that comes out of me not being able to paint that accurately.
WM — But I would say this painting here, the two women on the phone. It has a little bit of the feel of Rousseau, right?
Hill — God, I love Rousseau.
WM — So he was clearly a surrealist of a kind, right? And then the way that the dots in the one woman's dress are kind of reflective of the lights, the windows, and the buildings, and I don't know … the space between them. It feels a little bit Rousseau-esque to me.
Hill — Great, great, I really love Rousseau. If I could do jungle paintings, I would do them. That's why I'm being urban. I just want to get away from him and not indulge. The other reason I'm doing urban scenes is because I've been doing nature scenes for a long time, and I wanted to see if I can make it work.
WM — I think you made it work.
Hill — But I would prefer trees. You put a tree or a mountain in a picture, and it’s already beautiful. It's hard to make urban scenes beautiful. And I do worry about being beautiful, even though I do also want to be funny and I want to say other things. I just also want to make beautiful paintings. And I like to combine different styles in paintings — I don't know if I do that a lot. You know, it just seems like they’re one. They are one style and not one style.
WM — Well, they do feel connected. But I do see, like we've talked about some, the homages here and there.
Hill — Yeah, well I wanted them to be consistent.
WM — Well, maybe, maybe we've said enough.
Hill — I think so. So call me if you want to. If there's something else that comes up … good questions.
WM — What are you working on these days? Or what are you going to be working on?
Hill — Interiors.
WM — Oh, that'll be interesting. Do you have a commission for that, or are you just launching into the deep?
Hill — I don’t take commissions, yeh, they’re trouble.
WM — Amy, thank you so much. I've always wanted to talk about your work with you.
Hill — Thank you. And I always wanted to be in Whitehot Magazine.
WM — Well now you will be.
Hill — I had no idea you were a writer. You always were a writer?
WM — Yeah, yeah. Although I haven't been writing about art until recently. I always wanted to, I should have done it a long time ago.
Gary studied philosophy at Ole Miss and theology at Harvard. He has written for the Associated Press, represented the Archbishop of Canterbury at the United Nations, and taught chess in NYC’s inner city. From Mississippi, Gary lives in Brooklyn, writes poetry, short stories, loves art, travel, and fly-fishing. He claims New Orleans as his second cityview all articles from this author