Australian Fine Artist

Art Chat at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park

February 2014

Watershed Exhibition

Martin Hill was born in the UK and studied art at a small art college just outside of London. HIs broad artistic training led him into a thirty year career as a graphic designer in countries such as England, South Africa and New Zealand. His weekend love of the wilderness and climbing over the years led him to start looking at his career and what he really wanted to achieve in his life. At work in England he found that his passions and interests were not well understood by colleagues and his interest in climbing was seen as risky.

During 1967 Martin hitch hiked his way through India and Nepal to Mt Everest. His growing awareness of what humans were doing in the environment and the impact of the changing landscape started a chain of thinking that was to change his life. Later travels through Africa added to his thinking that the impact of humans on both animals and the landscape had to be addressed. His “new world view” and a desire to live elsewhere, led him to New Zealand where he was offered employment still in the graphics field, but closer to some of the natural environment that he wanted to visit and climb through.

Martin looked at artists such as Sydney Nolan and Richard Long, still not realising the statements they were conveying in their work that coincided with his own views. He also started reading the work by Buckmaster Fuller who wrote about working without impacting on others and how doing what you love can be done along side not impacting on the natural world, in fact working with the natural order to the point where if you are following your true path the universe will provide the way.

During 1991 in Australia Martin attended a conference on eco design at which topics such as resourcing and disposal of materials and the whole business of art should looked at in a holistic approach during the creative process. The keynote was given by Victor Papanek, who wrote “Design for the Real World”. He was a designer and educator who became a strong advocate of the socially and ecologically responsible design of products, tools, and community infrastructures. He disapproved of manufactured products that were unsafe, showy, maladapted, or essentially useless. His products, writings, and lectures were collectively considered an example and spur by many designers. Victor Papanek was a philosopher of design and as such he was an untiring, eloquent promoter of design aims and approaches that would be sensitive to social and ecological considerations. He wrote that “design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself)”.

So how do we design with recycling and disposal in mind? It is being done by more and more businesses, especially in Europe in the past ten to fifteen years, and to some degree in the USA and Australia, but not enough to stop piles of waste building up in our oceans, on our beaches and in our bushland.

There was a “trigger” that pushed Martin from Graphics as a career to art, even though he used his graphics training to help promote his feelings about the environment.

  • He began to focus more on the issues of the environment
  • He began doing more research into the subject
  • He wanted to become more a part of the solution than the problem
  • He wanted to start communicating different ideas to prompt people into thinking about the subject
  • He went back to his passion for climbing and being in the environment
  • Through his interests and moving home to New Zealand, he met his partner who shares his feelings and ambitions

Post Cards Project

With the use of his graphics contacts and training and new goals, Martin decided to build up the “brand” and recognition. He used graphics to create post cards from his photography of his art and the environment and marketed them world wide. It was an affordable way of creating a presence and introducing himself to the world.

New works at McClelland

Last year Martin and his partner were given a residency in a mountain reserve in New Zealand. This gave them the opportunity to pursue ideas about sustainable arts practice and make some ephemeral artworks for the exhibition.

The theme of the exhibition is water. A basic need for a planet to survive and have abundant life. The large format photos of his ephemeral works in place on mountain tops, in lakes, streams, waterfalls and gullies show sculptures made from the local materials, with snow, ice, rock, reeds or branches included. Some have the indication of a human “guardian” form, others have patterns that reflect the cycle of life and the seasons. The idea for the use of large format printing is based on it using safe inks and recyclable paper. The impact of production is minimal to get the message across in an exhibition.

The title “Watershed” for the exhibition comes form the meaning in New Zealand, being catchment and the common way it can be used in conversation of being a “watershed moment” or significant moment or critical point in history.

Martin feels that we are living in a time of significant change for humanity and the planet. We can impact on each other and the world around us like no other time and he also feels that it is the time to start thinking more broadly about what we should be doing and how we need to change our thinking about how we live, produce and create.

Fine Line Project

To finish off Martin talked about the “life project” he and his partner are now undertaking as they are able to afford it. They have drawn a line around the planet starting in New Zealand and meandering from north to south of the equator, pole to pole, creating ephemeral works in various sites to help draw attention to the need to change our way of thinking, creating and living. It will be interesting to see any record they may keep of this project as it grows over the coming years.

Final Thoughts

As an artist interested in thinking about better ways to produce art and have a sustainable practice, I always like to hear about what others are doing. I also like to hear about mid career changes, as I have recently done as well. Knowing that it can be done and successfully is very encouraging when you have spent over thirty years doing one thing and then go back to your first love.

For anyone learning about or producing photography, the large format prints are well worth a visit to see at the McClelland Gallery whilst this exhibition is on.

The prints are beautiful from just a love of nature point of view, they are also artistically designed and technically well photographed. My thanks to the Director of McClelland for arranging such an interesting art chat.

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