Tony Hill, Selected Works 2017 – 1972, F E McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 14 April until June 4th, 2017

The current psychology view seems to insist that we have two attention systems:  one  wondering over and around the perceivable  is a friendly support for wandering around this exhibition to get  a better focus. The other snaps our focus to anything that stimulates the senses: e.g. a loud noise.Many of the images Tony Hill made available for this essay are surveying what is there.  I asked for only  three  to snap out of that all over viewing.

On  entry a warmth of yellow mixed with orange tones presents the artist as a painter.

Yellow Canvas, 2017, Mixed Media reconstruction of lost one, exhibited at 1972 Maidstone Degree Show

On the two adjacent walls  are prints of drawings from the same year, Hill says they are for  “structures, situations and colours”.

Intriguing use of the term “situation” – something I recognise in much later lens based work. Here they  face some: On the left six cibachrome  prints, Hand Shapes exhibited in Octagon Gallery in 1981, are reminiscent of an image on the stairs of the Ludwig Collection at Aachen. Sorry – unable to locate that. In relation to the Modernist’s call for”originality” – long before calls that it is a myth,   Ludwig van Beethoven wrote   to a young pianist: The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun. (  July 17, 1812  in Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations , 1951) 

On the right, a memory from visiting Venice, A Lover’s Kiss, 2009, Inkjet  photograph.

On leaving the bay of silence:  Too many doors!  In some cases amassing the sameness is essential to weave a net capable to capture  multitude of thoughts and judgments.

Crown/Castle, 1991, doors, lime-wash, Scarlet Lake Pigment. Exhibited in 1991 at Fenderesky Gallery in the exhibition Poesis- Line-Object

From this viewing point the denouement slips out effortlessly.  The recycled useful objects keep their appearance but not their function, instead, they appear to have a conversation not unlike the hybrids of people and sacks installed by  Juan Muñoz, Conversation Piece (Dublin)  at IMMA, 1994.

The number of the doors installed in the middle of this gallery works well to do that, but not so well by occupying so much exhibition space and by blocking views.

Turning away from the doors  the installation intoxicates with diversity: a small blue wooden “high relief”, narrow as a crack in a  wooden fence, one of many “sticks” in the exhibition, stubbornly optimistic that its size is not undermined by the large wooden ladder wearing a cardboard square in colour of dry soil.

The twin  slide projection  inside plywood cavernous, door -less, cupboard, also blocks the view at the smaller two- dimensional items on the walls.

The large installation in the middle is: I Stand- Island, 1978, the slides were taken by Lynne Davies – Jones.

This shot  of  the  Renaissance Ladder (2013) which the catalog entry calls “installation”  opens a link to Duchamp, who located the art between the artist’s will and the viewer’s attention.    Dr Jamshid Mirfendersky in his catalog essay  points out that Hill’s art requires  “aesthetic attention”.  That is what stimulates a  “focus”  that will differentiate  this sculptural assemblage from a  similar one  in your garage or a shed. At the height of Modernism theoreticians entertained the significance of ” not just  a retinal response”, hoping to shift the aesthetic experience away from seeing.  The current research on attention   (e.g. Nilli Lavie, University College London) proposes that attention is a limited resource  and that filling all its slots leaves no room for distractions.  The two objects – one, the square, purposefully made by the artist, the other  an object of common utility –  leave empty slots, thus inviting distractions from your treasured  creative thinking.

Snapping out of the first encounter with any work of art   depends on the creative analogy a viewer brings to it. In her catalog essay Dr Antje von Graevenitz  turns to the analogy between alchemy and art, with imaginative focus on the orange square evoking hues from the depth of the Earth, namely sulphur: “…seeing them in an alchemical way, then both objects might be part of a rather symbolic language: the square with its colour orange seems to be like sulphur directing to the volcano, to fire and the sun, the square-pictures hues  or earth seem to be fetched from the ground.”   She also writes that it is” a humorous  image with serious suggestion”.

Tony Hill often undermines the serious idea with  detachment from it, possibly  to avoid heavy handed accent of persuasion or propaganda.  He does not preach,  he takes the risk to entertain with the highest abstraction.

I observed these “sticks” from all angles and distances… and was rewarded with actually slips of meaning, once  of pristine determined three-dimensional form chiselled out of precision, once, from a side view, flat and fluid and temperamental  like abstract expressionism ( albeit on a small scale).

This is the last bay from the left: Wall sculptures, 2007, maple, pigment, tempera on gesso. The small pastel on mahogany For An Adventurer, 2016, shares the sentient of that blue next to the Renaissance Ladder.

Water, maple. gesso, pigment, 2013

This composite variant of Hill’s vertical sculptures was given the whole wall at he garden window.  The empty surface around it intensified its visual power.  It filled all the slots of my attention  while harmoniously allowing a kind of reverence, known from encounters with votive objects.  Blue waterfall  cut out of its natural surroundings, yet keeping its magic  connection to the world…

Hill’s choice to allow the seen fragment of the world to resonate with our associations, analogies, memories, comparisons, playful guesses, does not preclude closed composition.

The next two examples of photographs on a similar theme  provide me with a question: how is his body and mind doing two operations at the same split of the second? One is to hold the twig (with one hand)  in a particular relation to the horizon, the other is to direct the lens to capture it( with the other hand).

 

Stick and Hill, County Donegal, 2009, Inkjet Photograph

 

Stick and Cliff, County Donegal, 2009, Inkjet Photograph

In my catalog essay I called it mindfulness  -as in filling all his slots of attention with  that simple trinity of eye, hand and mind – recommended already by Leonardo as the necessary condition for mute poetry.

Thanks to Dr Riann Coulter for sensitive curating  of a more complete   survey of Tony Hill’s art practice, as he puts it from 2017 until 1972.

Images courtesy Tony Hill.

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