Courtesy of Sol Hill
Sol Hill was surrounded by art his entire life. In fact, the day after he was born his parents opened the first contemporary art gallery in the creative mecca of Santa Fe, New Mexico. So it makes sense that he, too, would become an artist.
But when he announced that he wanted to study art in college, both of his parents urged him to do something more practical. Hill admitted this “took the wind out of my sails.” That, coupled with his ongoing dissatisfaction with the Gulf War, led Hill to take on a double major in International Affairs major with an area specialization in Persian Gulf security issues and German Studies.
Yet after graduation, Hill realized that his chosen field was not one he wanted to spend his life exploring. “First of all, I could not stand the idea of wearing a tie, much less a suite. I could not see myself happy working for the State Department, the CIA, the military or a multinational corporation. In the aftermath of the first Gulf War and in light of everything I learned about how the war was engineered to occur, I was too pessimistic to believe in the value of non-governmental organizations."
Despite leaving the world of International Affairs behind for a focus on art long ago, Hill’s early interest in politics has managed to slip back into his work over time. “I had already taken a turn toward political art a few years ago, although I more focused on addressing social justice issues than politics per se,” Hill acknowledged. “My Suspicious Privacy project examines privacy and surveillance in the digital age and my current project in development Through the Barrel examines social cost of epidemic gun violence. I approached these projects in a nonpartisan manner. In fact, I found that people on both ends of the political spectrum tend to respond favorably to these projects, particularly the surveillance and privacy project.”
Most recently, when Donald Trump won the election, Hill realized he could no longer remain non-partisan. “I felt it was important to actively resist what I call the 'Toxic Orange Agenda.' I engaged in supporting the resistance privately in a number of ways, from marching to donating money and calling my senators and representatives, but felt that I should break my professional non-partisan approach and use my skills as an artist to resist. I felt this shift was important because I began to understand that behind all the messages and arguments on the right was the same dangerous assumption — namely that it is no longer ok to agree to disagree — the other side views any dissent or difference of opinion as a mortal enemy that must be eliminated. This is too dangerous of a development to think that the opposing sides of the American body politic can continue to discuss and debate our way to compromise and get on with running the nation.”
Hill decided to create a project using the new President’s own words in his pieces. “I thought it would be interesting to do a text based project using Trump's language to reveal both his absurdity and disrespect, as well as, how American culture has descended to this level by electing him in spite of it.” He also knew that he had to incorporate two colors that had strongly become associated with the 45th leader of the United States — gold and orange.
Still Hill struggled with how to incorporate the bombastic color into his work. “I could not decide how to do this in an interesting way,” Hill conceded, “until my 14-year-old son commented during yet another debate over using orange or not was appropriate, that it was perfect to use orange ‘because after all, he is the cheese puff president!’ I immediately knew the solution was to make the project with Cheetos cheese puffs, which are day glow orange.”
Hill also found a deeper meaning in using the vibrant snack food as the basis for his paintings, “Making the project with Cheetos is in many ways very metaphorically appropriate because Trump, like Cheetos has an addictive popular appeal. They stain everything they touch. They are really not good for you, but you just can’t stop eating anyways. They are full of preservatives and color additives and addictive substances. As an art material they have questionable archivability. The artwork could crumble and fall apart by years end or it could be like a Twinky and be preserved long after we are all dead and long gone. And no matter how much you educate people about how consuming processed food cheese puffs is bad for you, people will continue to scarf them down in huge quantities.”
Hill has priced his pieces between $10,000 to $1,000,000, but he’s not looking to get rich of the project. Instead, he will give his artwork free of charge to anyone who makes a donation at the asking price or above it to any mutually agreed upon resistance organization. In addition to getting a great work of art, the buyer will get a full tax deduction for their contribution. For the less affluent art lovers out there, Hill is offering low cost reproductions and prints that range in price between $40 to $250. These, too, will benefit a good cause since the artist will donate half of the sales for the reproductions to the organization(s) the buyer selects at checkout from Hill’s curated list of programs.
In addition to the “The Best Art Ever!” project, Hill has enjoyed a long and successful career as an artist. After college, Hill and his future wife moved back to Santa Fe, where he decided he would pursue healthy and alternative construction. They soon turned their focus to creating the company Zen Stone Lighting. As Hill recounted, “Before we were married, my wife, had been a paper artist in Brazil and began making beautiful lampshades out of handmade paper. I thought we could sell more complete shades if we had an equally interesting lamps to offer a complete product. I began designing lamps made from natural stone with bundles of beautiful red salt cedar twigs rising directly out of the stone. Together we founded the company Zen Stone Lighting and started traveling the country to high-end craft and home furnishing shows as well as wholesale shows.”
As the business became more successful, Hill found he needed to focus more on managing employees, dealing with inventory and shipping and worrying but customer satisfaction than creating functional pieces of art. Following the birth of his first son and a health scare that left him questioning the state of his life, Hill decided he would pursue only what he “was truly passionate about.”
To that end, Hill considered a career in sustainable architecture and went so far as to prepare applications to programs with sustainability as a focus. But while he was photographing some of his projects, he rediscovered a love of photography that he had originally felt in Munich, Germany, during his junior year of college. He decided to enroll at the Brooks Institute to get an MFA in photography.
Hill “quickly turned away from conventional photography,” in large part inspired by a teacher at Brooks who was a psychologist who had done extensive research in creativity. “I consistently found that I was doing more creative work for her assignments than in other courses, including the main studio class,” Hill noted. This ultimately led Hill to start to explore concepts that would help him develop his unique technique.
He recalled, “In the world of photography, there is a single universal agreement: light is good. Outside of that photographers and everyone involved in photography frequently argue vehemently about everything conceivable and many things inconceivable to non-photographers.
He continued, “At Brooks, I began to observe there was a second, unconscious, agreement… that digital noise was horrible, useless and ugly and that it must be avoided or eradicated no matter what. In the commercial undergrad classes, there were two things that would automatically fail any assignment: lack of, or inappropriate focus and digital noise, something I had to judge in my role as teaching assistant in charge of grading assignments. I thought it would be fantastic if somebody did something so compelling with digital noise, that people would have to appreciate it, just to prove that nothing is inherently ugly or useless… it just matters how you look at it and where you place value. It took me a while to realize maybe that somebody should be me.”
A Lifetime of Waiting For This Moment, 2017, mixed media Metagraph: photography, digital artifacts, Japanese paper, acrylic on canvas, 72”x48”
Hill came up with a new process he dubbed “Metagraphs.” He described it saying, “I use the artifacts produced in a digital camera by ‘false exposure,’ which is exposure made by energies other than light. A photograph literally means ‘light writing,’ but the images I create have a huge amount of visual detail and texture caused by non-visible energies that move electrons down into the pixel ports where they get recorded and produce artifacts commonly called digital noise. This noise is colored by the filters over the pixel ports, which makes it more of an interference in a photograph than monochromatic film grain was. I call the work Metagraphs because they are a recording or a writing of much more than just visible light.”
To learn more about Sol Hill and the “The Best Art Ever!" visit his website.