SKYN: Hannah! Thank you for sitting down with us, I actually first came across your illustrations on Format magazine and I’ve been a fan ever since! So you were born in Alabama and now you live in New York, can you tell us a bit about what that transition was like for you?
HH: That transition wasn’t actually as difficult as it might sound – I made it about 3 years ago and at the time had been living in Baltimore for almost 5 years so it was actually quite easy. Alabama to Baltimore, Baltimore to New York. A bit of a stepping stone.
SKYN: I can see your point; each one probably adequately prepares you for the next. It’s must be pretty self-actualizing to see that kind of talent come to fruition, could you tell us about your other passions aside from art?
HH: Where to start- Fashion is a big interest of mine. Cooking and working in the kitchen. My father brought me up on great music, so that is another passion – Everything from the Talking Heads to Drake. I have to say another huge interest of mine is true crime drama. It doesn’t get realer than that. Some people jumped into that realm with Making of a Murderer, which is good, but I really love the Serial podcast, and docu-series such as The Jinx and The Staircase. As someone who is really moved by non-fiction, true crime is the pinnacle of that drama.
SKYN: It’s funny that you say that because at my family home, the channel that is on the TV without fail is always Investigation discovery, hilarious! Talking shop a little bit, can you tell us about Vision & Omen?
HH: Yes! Speaking of non-fiction, or should I say “creative non-fiction,” Vision & Omen was a show for me about familial legends. I’m from a farm-oriented family in the rural South and my grandmother, who I was extremely close to and who was my link to that part of my family, really impressed upon me the importance of hearing and recording oral storytelling from our family. She always told me, in a very reverent tone, about my great-great-great uncle Luke, now deceased. He was known as Uncle to the small town we’re from and he was a prophet. He was illiterate, but somehow knew the gospel texts by heart. Literally every verse – he said the pages turned in his head as he picked cotton. He saved my great-grandmother by donating blood (and I use that term very loosely in the antiquated Deep South) to her as she was giving birth. He did everything from finding lost pocket-books to warning of a local store burning down in the night after being struck by lightning. But the story that we were really interested in was from a woman named Irma. She was hesitant to delve into the narrative, but as it turns out she was in a horrible car accident after a school dance. Her date was killed instantly and she was gravely injured and immediately paralyzed. She received phone calls every day from an Uncle while in the hospital. They prayed together, but it kind of irritated her that he kept calling, like what’s this guy doing talking to me so much. And then one day a few weeks later, after being confirmed paralyzed, he called and told her to get up, that he wanted to see her walk out of the hospital. She was hesitant but she did it. She got up and literally walked out of the hospital. So Vision & Omen addresses the stories like this, some of them a bit darker, that I learned about an Uncle and my family.
SKYN: Wow that’s pretty wild. I assume that would be things you would address in you lectures? Like the ones you give at the walnut gallery in Gadsden or do you usually take them in a different direction?
HH: Really those gallery talks are an introduction to the work and the surrounding stories to people who are coming in cold to my paintings and ideas. I like to give a dusting of stories such as the one I just told you but not to go too deeply into some of the lore. I want to leave the images open to interpretation for the viewer. I have worked really hard to create imagery in my paintings that are personal but not sentimental because it is important to me that the viewer be able to project themselves onto the work.
SKYN: Absolutely a lot of art is about being able to relate one way or another. I’m curious about how hard it is to make a living as an artist and what in your opinion is the formula to something like that?
HH: It’s very hard, I won’t lie! I’ve scrimped money working at lounges, restaurants, retail and museums in order to even purchase the materials I work with as well as to afford time at residencies, where I usually make the bulk of a series of paintings. When I do sell a painting I feel so validated after all the hard work.
SKYN: Oh I can imagine, that’s the dream. What is your personal style like?
HH: I usually keep it pretty casual for the everyday. I have a bit of a “capsule wardrobe” with various oversized blouses and tunics and high waisted jeans. Sleek, architectural jewelry and shoes are where I like to show my style though! When I go out I like to wear dark lipstick and a dark brow, and the highest heels I have. Throw on some faux fur and there you go.
SKYN: Nice, I can actually really visualize that. Some of your work strikes me personally as dark, where does this overarching theme come from do you think?
HH: That’s a great question. People are often quite surprised that I’m a small blonde female, usually pretty peppy and polite, and yet my work is so dark. It’s a dichotomy that I admit I struggle with. Maybe being a Southern Belle makes me want to be so polite and bright, but my work really represents my inner self better. I’m inspired most by mystery around me, for instance the murder of my neighbor, as well as dark personal moments. My art is how I work through those things. An internal landscape. I like to think of it more as mysterious than truly dark!
SKYN: I would have to agree with you in it being mysterious, I suppose that was a synonym, I couldn’t grasp at the time. You’ve touched on personal challenges a bit and to be fair the concept is a natural thing in life and in my opinion if we do not encounter them, we weaken. What has been your biggest career challenge so far?
HH: That answer would have to be trying to “make it” as an artist in New York, with all the micro challenges one experiences such as commuting, materials, social crunches, transporting work, networking… and then I guess macro crunches like budget! I hate having to change a piece because it literally wont fit in my studio. It pains me! My work has changed since moving to New York to reflect challenges like that. When I was living in Baltimore or in Alabama, where I worked in a huge hanger, it was easier, and cheaper, to make massive works, which is what I gravitate to. Now with new challenges I have to think and work differently.
SKYN: Right, if there is one thing New York Is known for it’s that space comes at a premium. What are three ideas that encapsulate you, your likes and your admirations right now?
1. Themes of resurrection and reincarnation – think of the cicada bugs in the South that live in nymph form underground for 17 years to emerge and wreak havoc for only a few weeks.
2. The faulty nature of human memory. The only pure memory is one we don’t think about. As we turn over experiences in our mind they erode. Speculations morph into false recollections. In this way we literally re write our own stories.
3. Metaphysics. My father taught me some basic ideas like “Schrodinger’s cat” when I was very young, like 9. I remember lying on the carpet as a child and talking about worlds I imagined and he told me that if I thought it, it was real on some plane. That idea was monumental to me as a young woman experiencing the good and bad - accomplishments, growth, loss, fear, and joy.
SKYN: Wow jumping off of those ideas, what is your biggest undertaking in recent memory?
HH: In recent memory it was taking my big ass paintings to the 4Heads Governor’s Island Art Fair. Driving huge trucks over the Brooklyn Bridge and then loading everything onto a transport ferry and then wheeling everything over the hills on the island to my little room I was assigned. And no air-conditioning! I painted the whole room a charcoal black! It was fantastic in the end and I was happy with how I presented my works in crisp frames and beautiful white vinyl lettering on a dark background. I bought a glass cake plate and served Southern butter mints shaped in a cicada bug mold. People saw my work about murder and dread and were so scared to eat them! It was hilarious. I even printed “PLEASE take one” on the cake plate. But once they tried it they’d come back for more every weekend.
SKYN: A huge truck on the Brooklyn Bridge alone sounds like a death sentence but I’m glad you pulled through. What are the materials you generally use when creating what you create and are there one or a few that you lean towards more?
I gravitate towards traditional oil painting materials on clear primed raw canvas or linen. Lots of turpentine to thin out the paints and create a matte surface. Lots of muted colors punctuated by bright pinks or electric lavenders.
SKYN: I do see that quite a few in some of your work. What was it like growing up in Gadsden?
HH: I loved it. Always outside. I grew up riding horses and exploring. Playing in thunderstorms with my dog. Running through deserted streets at night. I lived in the woods by the river and found such strange things there, like a carving in a tree from the 30’s or an antique stoplight washed up into a creek. I’m an only child so a lot of my memories are very solitary. School was not my favorite experience until I was accepted to a fine arts high school in Birmingham and began commuting every day.
SKYN: Such a Southern belle. Getting a bit personal here, what is your biggest insecurity as far as your work goes?
HH: I touched on it earlier. It would be the dichotomy of myself versus my work. Small, blonde and bubbly to people I meet versus dark sometimes scary imagery. Both are me. I’m working on understanding that and either marrying the two or accepting the difference. I’m not sure yet which!
SKYN: Alright fair enough and what makes you happy?
HH: Getting lost in thought with a new song. Cutting vegetables in the kitchen. Dogs.
SKYN: There is something insanely therapeutic about cutting vegetables in the kitchen, or cooking. Is there somewhere you are really curious about going to that you haven’t had a chance to go to yet?
HH: I’m very curious about LA. I’ve never been to California. Nice weather is important to me so I’m sure it’s fantastic in that regard. I’m interested because strangers always tell me “You’d love LA,” and I have no idea what makes everyone say that. Another experience I’d like to have is going on a spirit bear (just a rare white grizzly bear!) hike in this huge forest in Canada where you go on a long camping trip with a First Nations guide who knows how to track these special beautiful bears.
SKYN: So interesting that nice weather is important to you but you live in New York! I’m sure it has its moments though. What has your experience been like as an artist in New York?
HH: Very hard and very slow. The city isn’t my favorite place, but I’m addicted to the opportunities here.
SKYN: I understand exactly what you mean, completely a love/hate situation. What was your university experience like?
HH: Amazing. Recently I’ve been feeling quite nostalgic for it! It took me quite a while to enjoy living in Baltimore, but I love that city now – so quirky once you get to know it. I had to find my niche in school and once I did I had a blast there with some really incredible porfessors that I still correspond with.
SKYN: What is more important to you, to be running shit in the family life like the Disney princesses do (and what I mean by this is having kids and a husband and having the quintessential family life that is pretty much picture perfect) or to be at the top of your career/profession assuming you can have one but never both?
Definitely being at the top of my career if I have to pick! I’m a homebody but I feel so much more fulfilled with a career that I feel is successful.
SKYN: Could you share with us a huge pet peeve of yours?
Okay here we go. People that see me after they see my work and they’re like ‘oh YOU painted that?,’ and they act so surprised. It’s always people that are so woke too that pretend they’re so open minded, and yet they think a persons outward image can’t possibly contradict their thoughts or internal self. Love it! People say they dumbest stuff when they don’t know I’m around at a show, ‘So scary!,’ or ‘I hope she’s in therapy,’ and then they meet me and they’re like oh, you did this? People think they know someone because they’ve seen a couple paintings.
SKYN: What is one thing that life has taught you that nobody else has?
That would be to take a negative thought or pain or desire and transform it in your work, no matter what it is. Own it.
SKYN: Are you a feminist or a womanist and is there a distinction for you?
No real distinction. I consider myself a feminist. I think you’re either a feminist or you’re sexist.
SKYN: How much do your illustrations feed into your everyday life?
I’m always trying to turn my everyday life, interactions I have or strange things I see or think into a picture.
SKYN: Are you in love?
Yes! I live with my long term boyfriend in Bushwick. We met in Alabama and are very different but have a lot of similar goals.
SKYN: What is love to you?
My boyfriend refers to himself as my studio assistant. That’s true love because my career and work is not easy to deal with as a significant other! Love is never easy but it’s in the process.
SKYN: What's next can we expect to see from you Hannah?
So much. Always more paintings. But I have some big, long-term video projects in the works that are going to blow the roof off.
SKYN: Is there a song or thing that you can’t get out of your head right now?
The aforementioned film project! I know it by heart and I’m working on a graphic novel of the same narrative. It’s about an urban legend in NE Alabama where I’m from. This benevolent creature people are convinced is real in the woods, there’s a facebook group and everything. “The Alabama White Thang,” it’s called. I took those stories and RAN with it for these next projects!
SKYN: When next we get to New York or wherever your travels may take you, are we hanging?
Oh absolutely. Hit me up.
SKYN: Where can our readers find your work on social media?
Best place is my website, www.hannahhillart.com !
@sofxposh | www.sofxposh.com
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