A Conversation: Hilary Doyle

The monumental in one’s life is becoming less and less recognizable. When everything gets flattened, digitized and dispersed, how is one to determine what is truly remarkable from what is utterly banal? Yet still, what does it mean for an artist to recognize these parallel ideas in order to cull some sort of meaning from not only their medium but their whole damn life? More direct, at this point what role does painting play in the everyday? I didn’t intend for this introduction to have so many questions but the work of Hilary Doyle is full of existential pontifications and I can’t help but reflect that. Doyle’s work could not exist if it were not for the core question of not “Why am I here?” but rather “How do I know I am here?” Doyle’s recent solo show, Window Facing Inward, at NYC’s Active Space addresses this question and approaches notions of time, the everyday and the space in between yawn and awe. Arthur Peña, Dallas Contributor

Hilary Doyle | Hand Drier, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 20”, 2013

Arthur Peña: How do you decide what to paint? Or is it how do you decide what not to paint?

Hilary Doyle: In part, I decide what to paint based on avoiding conventional subject matter (not painting anything "beautiful" or even really interesting). Edward Hopper has a great painting called "Steps in Paris" and I wonder what if he kept on painting unconventional things like that instead of naked women?...not to mention it's hilarious to visit Paris and paint a staircase. I'm interested in redefining beauty, and painting what's real and around me that I feel a deep urge to paint, over and over, every time I see it. 

Sometimes I like to think about a person having some kind of existential crisis and when they come out of it they find they are staring closely at a towel hanging in their bathroom or a crack in the sidewalk. 

Hilary Doyle | Tennis ball colored T-shirt on a hard object, 14” x 10”, oil on canvas on wood, 2013

AP: Do you mean like a few weeks ago when a family member of mine passed away and upon hearing the news I stared at a stapler for a while trying to wrap my head around the situation? That stapler is seared into my mind. In a very real way, it’s about projection, right?

HD: I'm sorry to hear that. But yes, exactly. Other artists perhaps dealing with similar content were: Neil Welliver, George Ault, and Charles Sheeler. For example "Devastated after the death of Charles Sheeler's roommate and dear friend Morton Schamberg, Sheeler became so fond of the home's 19th century stove that he called it his "companion" and made it a subject of his paintings and photographs." 

(L) Hilary Doyle | Mirror Reflecting Light, Acrylic on canvas and wood, 3” x 4”, 2013

(R) Hilary Doyle | Tile with Hair, Acrylic on chipboard and balsa wood, 4” x 5”, 2013

AP: So, for you, is this crisis in the object that you are painting or the painting that you are painting or the act of painting the painting that you are painting?

HD: The crisis is in perception. 

AP: When the stapler or the stove get associated with these moments of awe, isn’t there an equalizing that happens, a collapsing of the everyday and extraordinary?

Hilary Doyle | Hand III with cell phone, acrylic paint on canvas, 8” x 12”, 2013

HD: Yes, an equalizing of the everyday and the extraordinary. Put in another way, an equalizing of self with everything. Julia Kristeva associates this with the abject. Abjection being awe mixed with repulsion at noticing a strange likeness between objects and people. The awe from a primal desire to enter back into being a fluid extension of the world around you that occurs in infancy before Lacan's mirror stage. 

AP: You mentioned towels earlier and in your work there a lot of towels as subject. How are you making these works and what is it about towels that keep you coming back to them?

Hilary Doyle | Hanging Towel, oil paint on canvas on pushpin, 4” x 32” x 6”, 2013

HD: To me a towel is like a shell. In undergrad I used to paint snails and Ice-cream cones. I'm interested in unconventional symbols for a protective shield or threshold between a vulnerable inside and outside world. 

The blue hanging piece answers the question: what if the "towel" jumped outside the canvas? It's made of canvas, gesso and thick oil paint, carved into with a pin. Up close one can see its gooey, stiff paint. I'm also obsessed with the texture, and how towels seem furry and anthropomorphic.

Hanging Towel (detail)

AP: What do you think it is in us that want to make these things/objects human? To give them our time, attention and in some cases, find solace in them.

HD: I see art defined as bringing an idea to life. Francis Bacon elaborates in his 1971interview with David Jones: "You must never forget that every object has its passions. It has its implications. After all, life... we have this short moment of existence. To paint it’s a way... of crystallizing time. And of crystallizing the moment of one’s existence and that’s all we have. Why one wants to do this? You may say it’s a mystery." I also think the anthropomorphic can be humorous. Humor has a lot of potential to be emotionally healing, and provides as you say "solace' and even pleasure. As Ryman states, "the real purpose of painting is to give pleasure".

Hilary Doyle | Night: Bar, Throw (zoom), Dishtowel/ Mopine, Arm

AP: I really relate to bacon's possible answer to the "mystery" of making as “a way of passing the time." But there seems to be something apathetic to that idea, a shrug of the shoulders to existence. If painting does crystallize moments of one’s life, what do you think someone could gather from your show?

Hilary Doyle | Window Facing Inward, oil, acrylic and sand, 48” x 36” x 40”, 2013

HD: For me crystallizing moments has a lot to do with questioning reality. Painter Judy Glantzman thought the show was about verisimilitude. She talked about this idea that the show presents several ways of depicting reality, making you wonder which version of reality is the most real/true. I hope others walk away thinking about similar ideas.

Hilary Doyle | Lap Top Flicker, acrylic on canvas, 10” x 17”, 2013

What is our experience of the "real" world now that we spend in increasing amount of time on electronic devices? I'll be on a train seeing the most amazing thing out the window and will look around to see if anybody saw it too and they are all plugged in on their iPhones and computers and it seems a little scary to me. So I hope the work encourages people to enjoy looking at things in the real world again with a new sense of vividness and intensity. 

AP: When you see these “amazing” things and notice maybe no one else saw it, do you ever think that maybe it wasn’t real? Like, maybe you are going crazy...

HD: Haha no. Amazing things such as the sunset flickering at tree-level, a white egret in the mist or a rainy car accident with lots of flat cars and you realize that it was just a car carrier that hit a low bridge.

Hilary Doyle | Hand holding Abstraction, oil and acrylic on canvas, 12” x 16”, 2013

AP: If for some reason you couldn’t paint anymore, what would happen to you?

HD: Sometimes I feel like I can't paint, like right now actually, and I'm making a large charcoal drawing and some clay sculptures.

Hilary Doyle | Artforum, Sandpaper etc (Install shot) Artforum: acrylic on canvas, Penny: Acrylic paint on Acrylic Paint, Staples: Acrylic paint, Paint cap: Clay & Acrylic paint, Hair and String: Acrylic paint, Sandpaper: Acrylic paint, sand, and canvas, Paper: paint, Floor: Real, (All Actual Size), 2013.

AP: In your show you present a broken narrative of morning, routine, art making, commute and rest. this seems very practical and neat. a way of breaking up ones day to get the most out of your time.

HD: Yes, I think about time this way. 

AP: How does it work if one of those things doesn't happen?

HD: If those things don't happen I might feel lazy.

AP: How interconnected are these ideas? I would think that maybe art making would be an obvious choice for the most important but is that something that could happen if there were no commute?

Hilary Doyle | Commute: (L-R) Taking water out off a bodega freezer, Bag IV, Sidewalk (with cup), Hand holding Money, Sidewak Garbage Chelsea, Tennis ball colored T-shirt on a hard object, Newspaper.

HD: I like to think that everybody has something that they need to do with their day to not feel stir crazy. I actually need to commute...I have trouble making art without going for a walk first. I like to feed the art with some kind of fresh air, life experience even if it's just 15 minutes. I like long trips to work too. The journey is an integral part of the art and so is the morning, routine, rest and so on. 


Hilary Doyle has shown throughout the east coast since 2007, including her 2012 solo show Everything’s a Little Off at Brown University. Doyle received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2012 where she was a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant Nominee. Doyle is also a co-founder of Projekt 722, an art space located in Brooklyn. Doyle currently lives and works in New York City.

Arthur Peña is an artist, professor and founder of WARE:WOLF:HAUS, an experimental space located in West Dallas that opens this fall. Peña is currently participating in the 2013 Texas Biennial at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio, TX. He currently lives and works in Dallas, TX.Description: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gif


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