Saturday, March 3, 2012

Speaking with Maria Hildrick

The first time I met Maria was at an exhibition opening at The Oats Factory. I got talking to this rad lass and when I realised who she was I got a little excited, blurting something like, "oh my god your Maria Hildrick! I love your work" in a gushing way I seem to be prone to upon meeting people I've been admiring. Luckily for me she's good humoured and didn't run away. Instead we became friends and exhibited together last year in Beast for Thee. For March Speaking with she has graciously spent some time talking to me about her work.

Eileen felt her own absence, Maria Hildrick, 2010. Oil, graphite and ink on canvas.

Can you tell us a little about your background? Where did you grow up and where did you study?

I grew up mostly in and around Dublin, Ireland, spending a couple of years in England too. We moved a lot when I was little, I'd been to about 20 schools and lived in 30 different homes by the time I was 13. Moving home so frequently instilled my love of objects and the values we place on them. Also, pretty much all of our belongings came from second hand shops and this brought about a fascination with the history of objects, from op shops or the side of the street. Both my parents were very creative people so my sisters and I grew up surrounded by imagination, music and play. Painting and drawing have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and it was one of the things I most enjoyed as a kid.

My Mum Eileen developed schizophrenia when I was about 7 and this intensified and softened in varying amounts until her death 10 years later. Witnessing and reacting to these times, as part of my family and as an individual, is another aspect of my history that imparts heavily on my work.

 I didn't sit the whole of my Leaving Cert (exams at the end of high school), only attending the Art and the English exam as these were the ones that I felt were important to me! I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my self at that time really... I did a portfolio preparation course for a year and was lucky as the following year art colleges weren't only accepting students with enough Leaving Cert points anymore. They now accepted the cert I received from the portfolio course for entry to the college, along with a portfolio.

I started a degree in fine art at The National College of Art & Design in 2002. In the first year you got to play with everything before choosing what area you wished to specialise in. I did consider print, and enjoyed sculpture too but in the end decided on painting. The creative energy and location were amazing and really stimulating. There was a real emphasis on learning how to look, developing an awareness of ideas and how your work can be interpreted. I almost didn't realise how much I was learning and developing. I can really see the evolution of my current style from those years, particularly from the final two years, where my mixing of graphite, ink and oil began... I graduated in 2006 with a BA Fine Art, Painting and had my first solo show the following year. A few months later I left Ireland to travel and eventually found my way here to Perth.

Sandgroper enjoys feather, Maria Hildrick, 2010.

Do you think that the move to Perth, it's landscape (physical and/or cultural) have influenced your work in any ways that are particular to being here, in this place, at this time? 

The physical landscape has certainly influenced me. It really is vastly different to where I come from; the colours, the trees and plants, the wildlife, the light, the earth. I derive so much from nature and my surroundings that it couldn’t but permeate my work. Insects in particular have featured, at home too, but now to an even greater extent. In Ireland I used to work at a grain intake during the summer holidays and with the samples of barley would come the body of a earwig or a moth’s wing. Ladybirds caught by the combine mid flight were particularly treasured. The creatures I find here in Australia amaze me. I get very excited when I find a sand-groper who’s time has come or a stink bug who’s bitten the big one. One of the best is a praying mantis I found squished in Coral Bay.

There is an area of bush across from my house and it’s full of kookaburras, owls and magpies. Bobtail lizards too, who like to hang out in our garden sometimes. There is so much green space in Perth, so much wild life in the suburbs, that to be here now means a great deal to me as the city is growing so much. The bush land in front of my house has been sold and they are going to develop it into something like 50 apartments...

Also, coming to Perth and being so far away from everything I knew led me to explore objects in a different light. The verge side collection has been a great source of material for me and most of our house is furnished off the side of the street. My house-mates came home one day with a box full of carefully packaged ornaments; a ceramic cat, a little koala. These found objects, obviously once loved as they were remarkably well wrapped just to be chucked out, came to feature in much of my early work here in Australia. In the paintings they are searching for a place amongst imagery from my past. It wasn't until later that I realised this echoed how I too was searching for a place for myself. These pieces, once strangers and with their own history, have now come to mean a great deal to me. They are symbols of this place and that time. The other day I dropped the box they live in and let out a wail of devastation as I heard the sound of shattering from within! Fortunately none of the ones I use in my work were broken. It’s funny though, how the attachment develops. Coming here with just a backpack meant I was sort of starting from scratch in regards to objects with meaning and history. I now have a collection of objects that carry as much memory for me as the bench or the willow pattern plates from home.

Are you working on something at the moment that you can tell us about? 

At the moment I’m trying to figure out what I think about the form of an echo! I’m going to be doing a project with a WA arts magazine called dot dot dash and they are going to pair me up with a writer to collaborate on a piece. The brief is entitled the form of an echo and takes a passage from a talk by Derrida where he explores the story of Echo and Narcissus. I haven’t met my writer yet so at the moment I’m just spending time trying to figure out what I think and find a way into the subject matter, figure out my own thoughts...

Fish funeral II, Maria Hildrick, watercolour on paper.

Coming back to your use of insects and found objects, I can relate well to your attraction to these things and have used them in my own work. For me the "used" holds a kind of life via transference. Like as though along with our fingerprints, we leave bits of energy behind. And the little empty bodies of insects and small creatures make me think about what we overlook, little receptacles of “once was”. Do you have any thoughts on this and what attracts you to the found? 

I feel the same way, the insects are fragments of being, some are whole, some broken. Others have been hollowed from the inside out so all that’s left is their shell. They certainly carry the notion of “once was”, similar in a way to found objects and the history they carry.

I have collected a couple of bobtails too that were squished and dried out in the sun so just their skin is left preserved, their little legs caught mid run. I also found a small kangaroo paw and forearm recently. It was funny, initially I didn’t keep the paw, the leap to mammals seemed too great! I ended up going back for it the next day though… There is something about the bobtails in particular that resonates with being overlooked for me. I often see them on the side of the road. When they’re run over all their insides come out of their mouth because their skins are so tough. Their mouths are wide open, all the life rushing out of them… I guess they are such an every day thing for most people here that they don’t really register...

There are objects all over the world at this stage that I have lost or left behind. It’s interesting to me to think of these things and wonder where they are existing now, are they alone or part of someone else’s life. One of the things I love so much about the found is how it comes into your life, that you’ve happened upon this object because you went down that road, it’s that chance meeting. It’s kind of like that with people too sometimes.

The idea of leaving a type of fingerprint behind is lovely, makes me think of when I was little; my parents let us draw on the walls of the flats we lived in and when we moved on Johnny would repaint them. Under layers of paint in flats all over Dublin and London are little creatures and castles and lines and circles covered by more and more layers as other people lived there and moved on.

Wasp - 3D ink drawing, Maria Hildrick, 2010. Paper mache, wire, ink & plastic.
I love that idea of drawing on the walls of a home, another artist I interviewed last year, Lorraine Corker has a similar childhood story of drawing and writing on walls before covering it with fresh wallpaper. I've moved alot myself and find the idea of leaving a mark like this fascinating because I've never been able to feel connected to a "home" as such. Bricks and mortar seem so temporary to me and I suppose I like the fact that this drawing on the walls kind of celebrates an ephemeral notion of home. 

The sense of home is so subjective. I was at a exhibition last year, photographers were paired up with young homeless people to help them capture their notion of home on film. It was such a moving exhibit, images of stairwells and car parks, derelict houses and bushes; all these places, so out of sync with the mainstream notion of home, were home for these people. There was one girl who was no longer homeless and she took photos of the little porcelain creatures she collects. Just being able to have somewhere to put an object meant a tremendous amount to her and so the objects themselves came to carry that significance too...

Stereotypy I (Eileen), Maria Hildrick, 2011. Oil and graphite on canvas. 

Are there any books or movies that have significantly influenced your work?

What comes to the forefront of my mind is Jan ┼ávankmajer’s Alice, a reworking of Alice in Wonderland, in which he explores the darker aspects of the story using a mixture of live action and stop motion animation.  ┼ávankmajer uses bird, reptile and amphibian skeletons, stuffed animals and tongues, eyeballs and various organs to create the characters Alice interacts with. I first saw this as a child and was absorbed by it’s eerie, nightmarish qualities and particularly the use of animal parts, something that has permeated my own work as an adult.

Honesty in work is something I value, laying yourself bare. Hunter S Thompson's writing is influential for his raw and uncompromising accounts of experience, as is Charles Bukowski. It’s not so much a direct influence on actual paintings as it is on the integrity of my work I guess... I’m always honest to the times and emotions I draw on for my paintings. I rarely deviate from the original image and leave exposed my own personal experiences of transience, mental illness, suicide, love...

Where can people find out more about your work? 

People can find out more about my work and dates of upcoming shows at We will be adding a mailing list soon too so keep your eyes peeled!

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