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For the love of art For the love of ART

Sunday, September 02, 2018

To the uninitiated, Mark Hill's paintings could come across as intimidating. After all, they are not your everyday realism fruits-in-a-bowl. Rather, they are bold, vivid, colourful, geometric expressions which draw on influences of African art as well as the cubist technique co-founded by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.

Hill — whose work is currently on exhibition in New York, with a showing scheduled for Fort Lauderdale later this year — is quite aware of the impact his paintings may have on the casual art fan, but he's confident they will be well received and will inspire future painters.

Hill, a native of Montego Bay, has been painting for the past 26 years, on and off. The athletic 6' 2” artist who, in addition to Picasso, draws inspiration from the likes of Valente Malangatana Ngwenya from Mozambique, and Wifredo Lam from Cuba, is confident that his body of work has what it takes to make him one of the standout painters of this era.

“This path was deliberate,” he explained to the Jamaica Observer via phone from New York. “For me, this is an improvised revision where art is concerned. It was Henri Matisse who introduced Pablo Picasso to African art by way of sculptures and masks. The work captured Picasso so much that he boldly stated, 'This is art, and I have all rights to it because of my Moorish blood'.

“He (Picasso) later went to the Trocadero museum in Paris to view African art on display, and that was where he got the influence and inspiration to do the Demosoiselles d'Avignon – the painting that changed the world of art. African art bears witness to Picasso's rise and he did not give any credit to its influence. This is why I decided to go down this path because I took the influence and inspiration from Africa and Picasso, respectfully giving both their due diligence. And this is why I am confident my work will outlive me and form the subject of discussions for generations,” he said.

Hill's work has been on display at the One Art Space Gallery in Manhattan, New York, since August 19. Later in the year, it will go on exhibition at the North Beach Art Gallery, in Fort Lauderdale, one of the top galleries in Florida and which has displayed works from Brooke Trace, Pascal Lecocq, Tristina Dietz Elmes, and Ashton Howard. It also deals in fine arts and has featured works from renowned painters such as Salvador Dali, Nechita, Simbari, Erte, Theo Tobiasse, and many others.

Hill first started painting in high school, at Cornwall College, through the mentorship of art teacher Clyde Clarke. A few years later, he teamed up with Suzzette Harriott to paint several murals and paintings in the Montego Bay Civic Centre. He is proud to be in such esteemed company as there was a time that he had all but abandoned art to focus on other career opportunities.

“I did bobsled for a few years, starting in 1999, but stopped in 2007 when competing in Italy became my final tour. I enjoyed the travelling at the time because it gives the mind a different way of thinking,” he remarked. “I am thankful for the many experiences I had during that time but this was the path I was destined for.”

Apart from bobsled, Hill represented Cornwall College in football and was part of the winning DaCosta Cup team in 1995. He also represented Jamaica at the junior level. Although equally adept at football as he is with a brush in his hand, Hill always felt the need to return to art and would paint on and off until a friend from high school prompted him to paint more.

“Kona Weatherly is the person who got me painting again,” he explained. “Kona is Dr Dean Weatherly's son, my coach at Cornwall College during my football years. Dr Weatherly facilitated a lot of material for me to paint. I knew I wanted to paint but I was not too keen. But Kona kept on pushing and pushing until I gave in. So I took the brush up on September 10, 2017, and have done over 200 works thus far.”

Since then, he has practically painted full-time and spends an inordinate amount of time at North Beach Art Gallery preparing for his exhibition and learning more about the art industry. He credits Mariah Heilpern from Zucot Gallery for being an inspiration.

“She loved my work,” he said. “She was really the first person, gallery-wise, who gave my art a tremendous amount of strength, but she retired soon after. Tony Montenegro was also a deep believer. He fell in love with my work the first time he saw it. His dream and belief gave me wings.

“Tony got my work in his possession from a friend of mine. I did the work for that friend and he gave it away to Tony. Tony got his art contacts involved and that was how these opportunities have now come about. Now, I am soaring to the sky because of what Tony did. Life and its many turns,” he mused.

And in spite of disappointments, “such as people removing your work from exhibition for no particular reason”, Hill remains positive about his work, believing in the power of his art and the spirituality it represents, and hoping to influence others in the same way that Picasso and African art influenced him.

“I go where the art leads and I hope to be an accredited and recognised talent in the next five years,” he said.

Hill currently resides in Florida.