Fine Artist Sol Hill Creates: The Best Art!

Sol Hill

Photos Credit: Sol Hill

Sol Hill grew up in New Mexico, in a family of artists. He was surrounded by the works not only of his parents, but also of the artists that they exhibited in their contemporary art gallery in Santa Fe. From an early age, Sol was fascinated by the shapes that he could see, but could not yet understand nor appreciate. His varied travel experiences all over the country and throughout Europe during his formative years further influenced his creative mind. He has referred to his works as Energy Paintings because it is a hybrid process, simultaneously photography and painting, and yet is neither. His works are also considered Metagraphs because they are records of energies inclusive of and beyond those of visible light. Studying political science in college helped expand his interests, which Sol would eventually incorporate into his current Trump-centric series.

His new work, The Best Art! is an activist political art project aimed at resisting what Sol describes as “the orange agenda.” The text is fake gold lettering in a field of ground up Cheetos cheese puffs mixed with acrylic glazing. The text included in the smaller works are direct Trump quotes. Sol tells JustLuxe more about his artistic process and his latest works which poke fun at current politics.

Sol Hill

Both your parents are artists. They founded the first contemporary art gallery in Santa Fe, which was your home base as a child. How do you feel that influenced you growing up?

I would have to say that I had no idea that being surrounded by contemporary and postmodern art was not usual. As a child, the objects that surrounded me intrigued me and although I did not understand them, the feeling I had was that they were part of a secret alchemical language that I wanted to understand. I suppose the desire to learn this secret language is part of what kept me interested in making art. I also love both the flash of inspiration and the process of figuring out how to transform the inspiration into an art object. The more I practice, the more I am coming to learn that the secret is not out there, but rather it is inside myself. It is like a meditation practice, that thing that I so want to attain, that special state of being is not going to be handed to me by the yogi on the mountain, but rather by my own practice. Making art is as much a personal growth process where I continually bump up against my own limitations and issues and then have to reconcile them and forge a new path. In this way, I am always engaging with my work as a form of mindfulness and personal growth practice. Sometimes I wish it were easier, but the process of being an artist, like many creative endeavors, forces a kind of introspection. We often find ourselves wondering if our work is good enough, deep enough, authentic enough, or if we are worthy enough or skilled enough to navigate the practical side of the arts.

Sol Hill

Since they were both artists, did they encourage you to follow in their footsteps, or like most traditional parents did they encourage you to get a “real job”?

When I was young I think they appreciated anything artistic that I did. I was never highly skilled at drawing, that is probably my weakest skill. However, the very first “artwork” of mine that was published was a drawing I made when I was around 8 years old. It was Santa Claus flying his reindeer through space with X-wing fighters and TIE-fighters engaged in combat with the Death Star floating in the background. My mother had submitted it to the local paper and they published it around the holidays. Both my parents appreciated my enthusiasm for art history and art classes in high school, but when I announced that I wanted to be an art major in the spring term of my freshman year in college, both my parents separately said something like “oh, please no!” and “do something practical.” So, I dropped it and worked toward a double major in International Affairs with an area specialization in Persian Gulf security issues and German Studies. Go figure.

Sol Hill

What initially piqued your interest in becoming an artist?

I did a series of printmaking classes in college that I loved. I lost myself in the work and it inspired me to tell my parents I wanted to study art. After their negative reaction, I dropped art for a while. I took up photography my junior year, which I spent studying in Munich, Germany. After graduating, I took several photography classes, but again put my pursuits on for a few years. 12 years ago, after an undiagnosed and intense medical crisis made me question if I was satisfied with who I was and what I had achieved, I realized I needed to pursue my passion. I enrolled in the Brooks Institute of Photography and completed my MFA in 2010. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sol Hill

You’ve traveled quite a bit. How do you feel that influenced your art?

I really do believe the old phrase that travel is the best education. On top of the travel I have done as a student and adult, my childhood saw a lot of relocations. I was in a different school in a different state every year until junior high. I grew up in New Mexico, Illinois, Louisiana, California, Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont and to a lesser degree Missouri and Maryland. While it made for a difficult childhood, I think this much moving around really affected and expanded my perception of the world and of the United States. We are a very diverse nation and stronger for it. American culture is not a single thing, we are made up of numerous cultures diversified regionally, racially and by class. I believe leaving one’s culture helps you come back and see it more clearly, which in turn helps you understand your own assumptions and cultural programming better, which gives you the freedom to both break free of the norms you no longer admire, and embrace the ones you do.

Sol Hill

In your artist’s statement, you state, “I intentionally subvert the visual photographic record with artifacts that are endemic to digital imaging in order to reveal energies we normally do not see.”  Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Photographs are literally light writings. That is the meaning of the word. They are records of light. A digital camera is actually an energy recording device that is optimized to record photon energy. However, any wavelength energy that moves electrons can be recorded by a digital sensor and there are lots of energies that a digital sensor will record. These energies include the electromagnetic fields that our electrical grid and building wiring generate, that our telecommunication technologies like cellular signals, Wi-Fi and satellite feeds, radio and television broadcasts. The electromagnetic field the earth generates and that human bodies generate, not to mention the cosmic radiation outside of visible light that passes through or bombards earth continuously. The digital camera’s recording of these energies produces a false exposure that is commonly called digital noise. Still this noise is an actual recording of the reality we do not normally perceive. So, I became interested in utilizing it to subvert the photographic paradigm which is limited to sight. I often think that we think we know because we see, but that what we actually see is mostly what we already know. This is how human perception works. So, my goal was to use the artifacts produced by the records of what we cannot see to produce a visual effect that introduces uncertainty and a degree of mystery into the image. The image is still a recording of something actual, but it points toward the sublime rather than confining the viewer to the familiar.

Sol Hill

You’ve worked on political art and installations. What made you decide to go in that particular direction?

My background in political studies has always fostered an interest in macro political understanding. I disagree with a lot of what has been done in the name of US foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, because I think that since the start of our involvement our policies have created ever bigger disasters that come back to haunt us over and over. I don’t want to go into that here, but like travel, the awareness started to seep into my reading of domestic politics. I am very dismayed by the state of distrust and division in America today. I cannot stand the argument that government is bad, or that you cannot trust the government. Government is just a tool, and I think a much more interesting question is who is using the tool. I believe very strongly that those who believe most in the usefulness of the tool are also the ones most intent on persuading people not to trust it, so they can control it without competition.

Sol Hill

Tell me a bit about your new Trump-oriented series?

The art project’s physical artwork uses actual text from certain tweets and statements made by Trump. The lettering is fake gold on a field of orange finely ground up Cheetos cheese puffs. I literally used cheese puffs as the pigment in the series. They were mixed into an acrylic polymer varnish. The centerpiece of the project is my appropriation of his language forming a statement about it being the best art which is so absurd, it highlights the absurdity of the orange one in general. The conceptual part of the work is using this text based artwork as a platform for a national PR campaign designed to create a story about this project and how 100% of the “purchase” price will be made instead as a tax-deductible donation to organizations doing the hard work of the resistance.

The Best Art is a result of the frustration of turning in the direction of doing installation art because it is often hard to find a venue and a meet a budget for an installation. I wanted to do something outside the box, that incorporates real art, with real activism and real support of the resistance. I wanted to do it initially in a virtual manner through a media story and a virtual exhibit that everyone can go see and participate in. I conceived of The Best Art as a way of using art as an act political resistance. Not only does art have the power of reflecting contemporary culture, but it can help define culture. So, I wanted to appropriate the language of Trump, which is absurd and amplify the absurdity to help solidify that notion that his presidency is, indeed absurd. But that alone is a dangerously simplistic conclusion because absurd or not, he has the power to do a great deal of harm or destruction of the government tools that work for the benefit of the many so that the tools that work for the few can be unencumbered. So, I thought for the project to do some real good, I would use the art as a vehicle to raise money for the organizations that are doing the hard work of the resisting the orange agenda. I wanted to raise money for organizations like the ACLU, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Planned Parenthood, The National Immigration Law Center, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc. 

I realized that this makes a great story and if a story is really successful then it has the power to help shape our culture. So, the real concept of this project is the use of art as a vehicle to help attach the label of absurd to Trump in order to diminish his power and to raise funds to help the organizations best suited to countering his agenda, and in so doing helping raise awareness of the work they do. The purpose is to provide dollars to the boots on the ground with the knowledge and expertise to fight the toxic orange agenda.

Sol Hill

How did Cheetos become part of the mix?

While I was gathering absurd phrases from speeches and tweets to use I was thinking about how they should be presented. Of course, there had to be gold. Lots of gold. But there also had to be orange. I was dead set on orange in spite of many good conversations I had with my wife and others about how important it was to stop focusing on his orangeness and start talking about real policy outcomes and concrete (i.e. not fake) information. But I decided that the text project had to be loud, bombastic and above all absurd! I was still not sure how to produce the pieces I was planning. My son liked my description of what I was working on and why I wanted to use the color orange and he said something like “yeah because he is the cheese puff president.” And that was it, I would build it out of Cheetos cheese puffs. But they are delicate, so I experimented with grinding them up into a fine powder and mixing it with acrylic to use as a paint… except the result is the nastiest paint I’ve ever tried using, it is more like cooling pizza cheese that doesn’t spread well and moves around under the pallet knife with a mind of its own. Somehow that seems very fitting.

Sol Hill

Do you feel these works are mainly there to reflect what is currently happening in culture, or do you see them as having a specific call to action?

Both. The purpose of this project is to reflect and therefore reveal the absurdity of what is going on, but it is also a call to action by inviting people to donate to some of the organizations best suited to resisting the orange agenda. It is an invitation to participate in creating a great art project whose beneficiary is not me, the artist, but the organizations fighting to keep the America that believes in tolerance, choices, values the strength of multiculturalism, values public services, and ensures our drinking water is safe. The same America that believes in the value of immigrants, in the value of a climate that does not radically change, in the value of an open and equal internet—the list goes on and on, but most importantly it is about the American belief in the value of decency and looking out for one another.

Sol Hill

What would you like viewers to take away from this particular exhibit?

I would like viewers to laugh their heads off and begin calling out absurdity where they see it. I would like the viewer to engage, either by buying an artwork or a reprint which will result in a donation made to the organization of their choice. I would like to viewer to feel good about buying one of the pieces or reproductions and have that feel-good act as a motivator to join the organizations they support and/or donate directly to them, or volunteering their time and skill to some form of resisting the orange agenda.

Where and when will the public be able to view this series?

For now, the series is exhibited on my website, where reproductions can be purchased. The net proceeds after print fulfillment are donated to the organization of the buyer’s choice.

Carly Zinderman

Carly Zinderman is a Senior Staff Writer for JustLuxe, based just outside of Los Angeles, CA. Since graduating from Occidental College with a degree in English and Comparative Literary Studies, she has written on a variety of topics for books, magazines and online publications, but loves fashion and style best. In her spare time, when she?s not writing, Carly enjoys watching old movies, reading an...(Read More)

Around the web