NORMAN — Don’t get distracted by the whimsy of Skip Hill’s art: For this Norman artist’s latest work, there is much more than meets the eye.
Inspired by a recent trip to Brazil, Hill has spent the last six months creating collage works that reflect time spent in a culture that is both richly beautiful and deeply troubled. But for Hill, the dichotomy is only natural.
“It’s a part of life,” he said. “And I hope that’s reflected in the work.”
The approximate 30 pieces are being exhibited during “Under the Mango Tree,” Aug. 9 through Sept. 14 at MAINSITE Contemporary Art, 120 E. Main St.
The works, ranging in size from 5-by-7 inches to 3-by-4 feet, effortlessly intermingle lighthearted wit and dark romanticism and are simultaneously refreshing and thought-provoking. For Hill, it’s a perfect representation of his time spent in the exotic, South American country.
“Brazil, as beautiful as it is — I love the culture, people, food, language — is a country of great corruption, poverty, inequality, classism, their own form of racism, drugs, violence. All of that is a part of the country,” he said.
“So I didn’t go there with this doe-eyed, naive idea that it was all going to be beautiful and mangos and parrots. I knew going there that Brazil is a very — it’s a country of great contrast between the haves and the have-nots, between the educated and uneducated, there’s a growing middle class but it’s still predominately a poor country with the poor and the very, very wealthy.”
Hill used an assortment of materials to create his commentary, including acrylic paint, inks, glitter and paper from a variety of sources, primarily from Brazilian magazines.
The main focus in this series are birds that Hill said he used to symbolize the idea of diversity within a community. Hill created the abstract avian figures using free-form cut scraps of paper, often featuring words and iconography.
Several pieces within the series showcase black figures contrasted with Eurocentric themes or Catholic iconography, and of course, the figures are accompanied by birds.
Hill’s choice use of materials and symbols raises many questions for his viewers — namely on race, cultural and social issues — without providing answers that are either affirmative or negative.
Despite the insight Hill’s work provides on his observations, this series still maintains a charming, playful optimism.
Though Hill has traveled the world, he said his three-week visit to Brazil had a powerful impact on him. After returning from his trip, Hill said he struggled to find his artistic rhythm but once he did “it was just like snap, snap, snap. It wasn’t a struggle, it was a joy and that’s ultimately where you want to get to.”
Hill said he let the creative process for this series happen organically, exploring “rabbit trails” and allowing happy accidents to happen.
Now, he’s giving fans insight into his art-making by practically living in the MAINSITE gallery during the month-long exhibit. Hill is moving his studio into the gallery space and inviting the community to share in his art during extended hours and impromptu events.
After his Norman show, Hill said he hopes to exhibit remaining works in Brazil.
For more information on Hill, find Skip Hill Art on Facebook.
The opening reception for Skip Hill’s “Under the Mango Tree” exhibit is 6-10 p.m. Aug. 9 at MAINSITE Contemporary Art, 120 E. Main St., held in conjunction with August’s 2nd Friday Circuit of Art.
The evening will include a special performance by modern dance troupe Perpetual, one of the premier modern and aerial dance companies in Oklahoma.
The work of Norman Arts Council Individual Artist Award winner, printmaker and University of Oklahoma MFA student Jessi Wilson will be on display in The Library Gallery of MAINSITE Contemporary Art.
The Water Closet Gallery will house Dismember, a collection of digital collages by Norman graphic designer Joshua Boydston.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 14 with a closing reception scheduled 6-10 p.m. Sept. 13.
MAINSITE Contemporary Art is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Visit mainsite-art.com or normanarts.org for more information.