Hands That Speak 

Artist Molly Hill at J Crist Gallery

Boise artist Molly Hill could be called recalcitrant on the subject of her paintings. She is a successful artist, whose current showing of acrylic on canvas paintings at J Crist Gallery, entitled Talking Hands, opens on First Thursday, but she is hesitant--almost resistant--to talking about her work. When BW spoke with her about the exhibition, the first thing she said--almost apologetically--was, "I appreciate the attention to the work. I just don't want any attention on me."

Hill's came to the art world relatively late. "I always expressed myself artistically. I was kind of a closet painter," she says. Even so, she had a career and her daughter was grown before she pursued art in earnest. Working in sales and marketing in the business world, Hill would take watercolors and colored pencils with her on business trips and paint and draw in hotel rooms at night. "The muse will only scream so long," says Hill. "So I said, 'OK, already, shut up.'" She dropped out of the corporate world, and in the early to mid-'90s, Hill was attending art school at Boise State. After graduation, she attended a year at the University of Washington in the MFA program, though, due to her mother's illness, she came back before completing her MFA. During and after her stint in grad school, around 1999-2000, she recalls, Hill started developing the style that she works in today.

Hill's work could be described as formal, sometimes remote and often melancholy, with dark, saturated colors and figures that fix the viewer with their demeanor. There is a definite Asian influence in the paintings, as well. Hill acknowledges a Chinese current running through her works, though she says she doesn't know why she developed that particular style, other than an ongoing personal interest: cultural, aesthetic, symbolic, "pattern, metaphor--all those things that interest artists." She had contact with many Chinese students at Boise State and began to notice the "wonderful way" many of them had of taking an Asian aesthetic and applying Western art canons. "It was a new, fresh-looking kind of work," she recalls.

Anticipating charges of "cultural appropriation," Hill says, "I don't personally think it is the artist's duty to answer/resolve/report or visually document what a culture wants to see, but rather the artist challenges the viewer/culture to share a particular and unique way of seeing the world around them or to express visually with art what is (culturally) familiar, what we all collectively 'know' but that some are unable to say." Subject matter, says Hill is just a vehicle, a device. "It can be one the artist is obsessively curious about, intrigued by, compelled to investigate. It could just as easily be katydids or light as it hits a doorway at different times of day or the apple tree in your back yard." The artist asks universal questions--"Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here?"--in a yearning for meaning, and there are multiple means of exploration. "For me, it's this," says Hill. "For others, it could be Basques or Hopis." Or the apple tree.

Talking Hands, says Hill, represent a slowly occurring transition in her work. Pointing to the painting from which the title of the show was taken, Hill says that the figures she paints are becoming more animated. "They're beginning to move a little bit, becoming a little more animated, rather than staring at the viewer." These expressive figures have expressive hands, bird-like, as shadow pictures on a wall. Hill says she often uses birds metaphorically in her work. An artist friend once asked her, "When are the birds going to fly?" In one of the exhibition's paintings, Flying Lesson, a figure does finally get off the ground, albeit tentatively. The transition is a slow evolution.

Says Hill of the themes running through the show, those "talking hands" operate as a kind of metaphor for the artist, saying on the canvas what the artist perhaps cannot verbalize.

Molly Hill's Talking Hands exhibition will have an opening reception at J Crist Gallery, 223 S. 17th St., 336-2671, on First Thursday from 5-8 p.m., and will be on display through December 24.

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