Right now I’m working on two-dimensional paintings that combine panels or multiple pieces of painted and carved wood. The paintings are developed through a technique using lots of repeated mark-making, and multiple glued wood bits. The wood bits can begin to look kind of textile or mosaic-like. This kind of repetition is itself an expressive act for me, expressive of the joy and comfort that I find in repetition, and similar feelings I have about the constancy of natural cycles.
The panels are visibly textural once completed but most of them are built on smooth birch veneer plywood. It has a fairly tight grain, so it doesn’t split easily when I carve it, and it shows the grain when I ink it up. I can etch lines into it and build up the surface with layers of paint. I like the way wood feels and smells; it’s got some substance to it, and I like the inborn tactile energy that it carries with it.
I split my time between my home studio and the Woodworkers Club in Rockville, where I do the sawing and sanding. The drawing, painting, carving, layout and gluing of the artwork takes place in my home studio, so my studio is filled with thousands of little pieces of painted, inked, carved and etched wood. Spending part of my time at the Woodworkers Club is important because it gives me the chance to talk to other people who are working on completely different projects, which helps keep me from going crazy alone in my studio surrounded by little wood rectangles. I learn a lot from the other woodworkers and we chat and bounce ideas of one another. It’s good to mix some fun with work.
I’m currently making work for a solo show that will open in April 2014 at the Steven Scott Gallery in Baltimore. I’m painting and etching boards with colorful washes and patterned lines (these boards will be cut up), and making panels with imagery. I tend to use imagery that I’m familiar with—woodsy birds and plants from the Mid-Atlantic region, or patterns that suggest nature.
So far, I’m not sure where these new pieces and panels will go. I’ve got this idea for a “tablecloth” series. I like the idea of something that people gather around at important times, where they share and have a good time. And I love the way that tablecloths tend to lack realistic perspective but can emphasize crazy pattern and energy. I’m hoping that some of the panels I’m working on now will end up in this tablecloth idea. It may or may not work; this is one of those things you have to figure out by doing.
In terms of subject matter, I usually focus my art on things that are affirming for me. I see some artwork that speaks about social issues, and it’s absolutely great and I really admire it. But I have a pretty obsessive personality to begin with, so I have to be careful because I’ve found that when I try to make work about things that make me angry, I just become angrier — and depressed. So I find other ways to address things about the world that bother me. Personal loss and sorrow have inspired some of my work, but even this work tends to celebrate what has been lost, or has been a way to try to keep the faith. It may sound simple-minded, but if someone has my work on a wall, I want it to make them feel good.
Ellen Hill‘s artworks have been shown throughout the United States and abroad in Northern Ireland and Vietnam. Her works are in public and private collections including the U.S. State Department; the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities; KPMG-LLP; and Rutgers University. Hill is the recipient of two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council and a 2011 Grant to Individual Artists from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. She has taught art from the elementary school level to the college level, and has served as Artist in Residence at Montgomery College, Takoma Park, MD; Hood College in Frederick, MD; and as resident printmaker at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Silver Spring, MD. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Ellen is represented by the Steven Scott Gallery, Baltimore, MD.