Illustrating the visual dynamic of movement in art can be tricky thing, you almost have to think about it like a cartoon flip book. Now imagine that on a massive scale, with precisely layered figures skipping across the canvas, and for artist Li-Hill, that canvas is often the street. Canadian born and now living in Brooklyn, the prolific artist is exploding on the art scene with both his 2D and 3D installations. Much of his street art weaves the human expression with sharp contrasting industrial buildings, layered against a fleeing animal, examining social issues such as industrialization, man vs. nature and information saturation.
Li-Hill’s latest body of work “Electric Currents and Mortal Wounds” opening at White Walls Gallery in SF on Saturday is a discerning look at the global dynamic of the Olympics, shown through the athleticism of modern fencing. The underlying militaristic qualities of the sport of fencing shown through human movement, ingenuity, speed and strength is meant to expose global systems beyond the realms of sporting events, mainly issues of globalization, technological advancements and concepts of progress inherent within capitalism.
Previous exhibitions such as “Industrial Cascade” express similar world views and also incorporates his fencers, but through a 3D perspective. The massive construction of this piece was crafted from found objects. We had a chance to interview Li-Hill despite his busy schedule (in the meantime we also had a chance to hang with him in Las Vegas at the Life Is Beautiful festival curated by JustKids). Have a look:
LF: We LOVE your work! How’s this year rounding out for you?
LH: Thank you! This year is rounding out with quite a whirlwind, definitely has been the busiest year yet. I am currently in San Francisco for my first American solo show at White Walls Gallery and afterwards, I head back to New York for a group show at Succulent Studios. I finish the year off with some murals in Miami and showcasing a couple pieces at SCOPE art fair with C.A.V.E. gallery from LA. Leading up to this, I was in Las Vegas for the Life Is Beautiful festival, curated by JustKids, where I completed a large-scale installation and New York for a pop up collaborative show with Vexta. Prior to that I was in Toronto for an installation that addressed climate change, done with the MaRS center for innovation. I’m a bit dizzy thinking about it all.
LF: You said in an interview that you love street art because it’s arbitrary and almost like a peace of fate. What is fate to you and how has it shaped your artistic journey?
LH: I see fate as something that is less preordained and more about rising to a situation, something that involves more choice however conscious or not. I think at all times there are many paths in front of a persons life and fate is about arriving at the right path, however subjective and imperceptible that is in the moment. I know this is outside of the prescribed definition but I don’t think there is a proper word to articulate what I see as fate. Fate for me is being in the right place by being open and inquisitive, to arrive at those fateful moments. Being in the right place at the right time involves choices that lead to those situations. I try and stay open in my process and let things influence me, especially the environment. Over the years this has allowed ideas and situations to just arrive and involves, for me, a concept of fate.
LF: The symmetry in your installation “Industrial Cascade” feels representational of the line-driven textures in your street work. How did you develop this style?
LH: This style came from my fascination with the use of line in the urban environment. I started to see construction beams and scaffolding in development sights as bones of a building and I began to see these “skeletons”, all over the city in different forms. Thinking about the grid lines within streets, of Internet hubs and the connections between digital systems, drainage and electric grids, all of this as the deployment of rational thought and human ingenuity onto our seemingly chaotic and random environment. Overlaid in the dense fabric of urban centers, it becomes chaotic and overwhelming in itself. This idea is what has driven the line based textures within my work.
LF: What are the challenges of 3D vs. 2D?
LH: They both have their challenges and opportunities. 3D offers more to think and play with, which can help but also create more obstacles and more to balance within a piece. The use of line work lead me to three-dimensional pieces and I think without that initial drive and tool, I wouldn’t have seen a clear path into the three-dimensional.
LF: Your paintings range in graphic elements from industrial structures to figure painting to the animal kingdom, or the beautiful collision of all three. If you could name a point of inspiration for each, what would they be?
LH: That is a tough question to answer concisely but I’ll give it a go. I am inspired by the animal kingdom because it reminds me we are not alone on this planet, people tend to think of the world in a very human centric way and animals reinforce the idea of the natural environment and our connection to it. They also become powerful symbols that relate to humans history and mythology. I am inspired by the figurative because it can express human energy and encompass the deep psychological, social and political aspects of life, while the Industrial structures deal with spatial issues along with the social and political. The industrial structures are inspired by the current and deal with very real and pressing issues that face us now in the present. I think all three elements touch on a corner stone of my inspiration and it is in the combination, whether on one canvas or over the span of many, that create the largest point of inspiration which is interconnection.
LF: You’ve been a longtime skater. Do you have a favorite skate spot in Brooklyn?
LH: Lately I haven’t had much time to skate but when I do it’s usually at McCarren Skatepark because there is a great ledge there and grinds are my thing.
LF: What do you love about the Brooklyn art scene?
LH: I love how varied it is. I feel like a lot of interesting and diverse things are taking place there and it’s still a bit wild, although I don’t know it very well. I’m a pretty recent migrant to the scene.
LF: What gets you off, literally or figuratively?
LH: My girlfriend does literally and figuratively, intense moments of connection through really great conversation. Non-sexually, I would say the thing that gets me off the most is being so sucked into a piece that I lose all awareness of time and become so in the moment that I intuitively make a great move, something akin to a trick in skateboarding but less defined. I usually stand back and get really excited and possibly start dancing and jump around a bit. I’m divulging a lot at this point.
LF: How FAST do you live?
LH: Lately…. very, very fast.