MAGNITUDES & MICROCOSMS: IN THE STUDIO WITH GEORGIA HILL
Words by Lily Cameron / Photography by Chris Loutfy
I meet Sydney artist Georgia Hill at her shared studio in Marrickville. She yawns as we walk up the stairs, having just sent off the artworks for her upcoming exhibition A Measure of All Things, showing at Backwoods Gallery in Melbourne from 31 May–16 June. We make our way through a big communal area, materials thrown around haphazardly, and she shows me into her own studio space. Her laptop sits open on a paused episode of Suits, surrounded by scraps of paper and drawing ephemera. As we begin to talk, planes fly over the studio and we have to pause for a second, laughing at the awkward staccato of our conversation.
Hill emerged in the Sydney art scene in 2014, and has been making waves ever since. She established a distinct style characterised by entrancing typographic and illustrative work from huge-scale murals, to canvas, paper, and 3D studio pieces.
Hill’s art practice has taken her all over the world, and she’s not showing any signs of stopping. When I ask her what travel plans she has coming up, she struggles to remember all her impending flights, counting them off on her fingers. Her work can be found in galleries and structures across Australia, to India’s first public art district, hand-painted banners in Spain, abandoned buildings and walls in the UK, New Zealand, Iceland, the US, Canada, Japan, and Indonesia.
A Measure of All Things is defined by its contrasts: micro/macro, unplanned/precise, ambiguous/intentional. Hill’s art is hypnotic and uncompromising, drawing the viewer into a world not unlike our own—but into a plane with more dimensions. For Hill personally, she reflects, ”it's been more of a year of frantic energy, but I don't want to make a show just about that—but it does seep in.” Hill’s work remains controlled, exact—this frenetic movement she speaks of only trickling in through an immersive study of tactility. The same can be said for the juxtaposition between the loose easiness of her initial sketches, shown alongside their finished counterparts, intricate and particular. All Hill’s work to a certain degree deals with the micro and the macro, the smaller details that make up the whole; it’s what defines her style, the captivating black and white work for which she’s known. It is Hill’s intention to leave her works ambiguous, leaving room for a diverse range of interpretations from the audience. As she puts it, “It's nice to have the show in a gallery space where you let people have a dialogue with themselves. I felt much more confident in what I was making for this show; it wasn't all just based around type or around a big message spelled out to people, it was more about using the composition and lines and different forms to create a tone and a scene.”
A Measure of All Things is a chance for Hill to show all the effort behind the scenes, “If you're going to bother to do something and get caught up in the feeling of doing it, it's nice to give it real time and let it mean something to you, even if, for all you know, no one will ever care. It's about how you feel in the process, not how you feel in the reaction.” This focus on the unseen is unique to this exhibition, and speaks to the juxtaposition between concept and finished product which permeates Hill’s work.
This is exemplified in a fairly new medium for Hill: sculptures. The magnitude of architectural structures, a distinct sense of space that prevails in her current work, A Measure of All Things undoubtedly takes inspiration from her mural work. She expertly interweaves memories, nuanced personal experiences, and significant points in time with the sense of the physical, saying, “So much of how we feel and think and the memories we have all reflect how we express things; it’s shaped by environment.” This creates a relationship between the individual and their environment, “not so much using words to frame something, but using structures to frame it, quite literally.” The four structures (standing over two metres tall) force the audience to question the frameworks of monuments through the fairly brutalist media of steel and concrete. Hill’s new venture into sculpture signifies a fresh, new perspective for her art practice—one she has been striving towards for the past five years.
Distinct from her usual practice, Hill has focused on reading a broad range of art and literary theory as background for her upcoming exhibition. It shows; her studio wall is plastered with dozens of notebook pages ripped out, covered with writing fragments. With early sketches being featured, the exhibition is becoming itself a study of the creative process. She says, “I’ve enjoyed the process and the thinking behind, I want to show a bit of that off in the final result… but I find it really weird and vulnerable to say: ‘this is what I found and felt and thought.’”As we talk about it, she shrinks in her seat, wringing paint-splattered hands together, and laughs that she feels unusually exposed just doing this interview or having someone in her studio.
This is only further illustrated by the importance Hill places on language; the words she chooses to showcase seem like a window into her mind. She sees language as a link between people, perhaps made more emotive by her unique synaesthesia, a neurological trait of merging senses which, in Hill’s case, manifests with words being associated with colours. Some of her strengths come together when identifying the contrast between language and structure, her work at times dominated by striking lines and patterns, at others clear and empty. “It was really nice to explore how things contrast, sit together or against each other, creating not actual symbolism but a visual weight.”
When speaking about her recent collaborative show with Tom Gerrard at Metro Gallery, Hill’s face lights up. She recalls the exhibition, Given Time, with awe, how it snapped her out of a few of her routines. She says, “You find formulas to work—and I really like having certain formulas—but I've been getting a bit bored of it too.” Usually one to plan extensively, working in conjunction with Gerrard meant creating only one quick sketch before starting on a piece. This altered formula signalled a welcome change of pace, clearly seen in the new textures and materiality of A Measure of All Things. Part of this formulaic way of working stems from the meticulousness necessary for mural work. Hill points out that all art is for people to look at, but murals remain plainly for public consumption, the feedback instant and the outcome limited by planning. Despite this, Hill is such a staple in the Sydney art scene that she’s at a stage in her career where she can “be a bit more challenging and different, even with work which is mostly abstract and monochromatic”.
If you had told 15-year-old Georgia Hill that her career would see her painting across the world, she might not have believed you. She always knew she’d produce creative work but upon reflection she said, “for a long time I had a lot of fear or worry that I wouldn’t be making things I’m proud of.” Nothing could be further from the mark. Extensive travel has left Hill without any particular home base, but her Marrickville studio seems as good a home as any. She is settled without being stifled, and has the room to experiment. Earnestly, she says about the upcoming show: “I'm really happy with the work, which is pretty rare for me. I'm finally getting into the swing of doing studio work.”
It’s easy to get lost in Georgia Hill’s work, it draws audiences in, bewitching with vivid patterns and textures. A Measure of All Things—showing at Backwoods Gallery from 30 May–16 June—will serve as a unique view into Hill’s process, sparking reflection on memory and landscapes, and their enduring impact on the self.