Darius Hill

Studio - Darius HillCombing Through History

by Brett Levine    

Photo by Jerry Siegel

Darius Hill never set out to make work about identity issues. “I grew up in the Western tradition,” he explains, “so I was influenced by impressionism, post-impressionism, and abstract expressionism at first.” He describes the work as gothic, but in reference to the architectural style rather than the post-punk stylings. “It was really fascinating,” Hill continues. “I was studying at the Atlanta College of Art at a very interesting time, when both Kara Walker and Radcliffe Bailey were there. But I wasn’t making work about my African-American identity, I was simply exploring a sort of masculine abstraction through a series of paintings, etchings and drawings.”

Hill’s perspectives on exploring these issues changed almost a decade ago. “I was really influenced by rap music, especially artists who expressed a social consciousness,” Hill remarks. “My uncle was Lester Cobb, who was a student leader during the Civil Rights movement. He went on to be a really respected jazz drummer,” Hill continues, “but when I was younger I didn’t really realize the significance of the stories he was telling me. As I got older, particularly after he passed,” Hill pauses, “I wished I had spent more time listening and learning. What I did know then, though, was that there were ways I could explore my history, my interests and my present thinking through my work.”

What emerged was the first piece to include Hill’s use of an afro comb. “The afro comb is an amazing object,” Hill laughs. “When I was younger I worked my way through every hairstyle, from the afro to the high-top fade to my dreads. When I was thinking about an afro comb, I began to realize that not only was it a really utilitarian object, but it also had qualities that other people put on it. It was a comb, a pick, but some people also thought of it as a weapon. I wanted to imagine everything it could be at the same time that I thought about everything it meant to me.”

The comb became a recurring theme in many of Hill’s works, transforming from an early print to an icon in numerous paintings to its most recent manifestation as an eight–foot tall painted wooden object. “I got interested in the possibilities of working with wooden sculptures simply because I’ve often had to make all my and my wife Bethanne’s frames,” Hill smiles. “I started constructing these large-scale afro comb armatures, and I realized that these oversized objects were really embodying a lot of the ideas I’d been exploring in my works. After appropriating icons from the canon of traditionally older, white male artists—basically the artists I studied in school—I realized that I could continue to explore my loves for painting and printmaking at the same time that I was also starting to make three-dimensional sculpture. What was most important to me was not to be categorized. To me it wasn’t important what the medium was, it was simply important for me to capture the meaning.”

Now, in the studio, Hill is working on a series of three-dimensional pieces that combine his love for painting with his desire to free his works from the confines of the wall. “I have an exhibition coming up in January 2014 at Samford University called What’s Your Angle Jive Turkey? It will include a series of these large comb works as well as a new series of shields I am making—circular works constructed from this cut wood technique that really try to combine my love for comics, cartoons and old superhero movies with the question of what the American dream really is for someone from the ‘hood.’”

Hill loves the trajectory his new work is taking. “I feel like I’m really connecting to the works, and I’m surprised by some of the ways my histories are intersecting. When you look at the combs, for example, you can see a gothic arch. When you see a combine painting, you can see the idea of a quilt. Or when you see the collaged imagery from the Jim Crow era, you can understand that part of my process is simply trying to understand my own history. Now,” he says softly, “the real challenge is to understand the character of every piece at the same time that I am making discoveries about myself.”

3 Responses to “Darius Hill”

  1. Sharon Freeman says:

    I’m fascinated by your choice of an afro comb. It’s so symbolic in so many ways. I received an afro comb from a dear friend as a gift in the 1970s. My comb had a “black power” fist as the handle. The comb represented a glimpse into someone else’s world. Had many conversations about what the comb meant and the different places to display it on one’s person. Of course perched on someones head at an cool angle with the handle clearly visible was the preferred place, yet they were seen in back pockets and peaking out of purses as well. I loved mine and used it for a long time. It’s somewhere packed away, but I think I’ll look for it soon. Great memories. I would love to visit your exhibition in January! Great article.
    We’ve met before. I’m an old friend of Lynn’s.

  2. Curtis Tucker says:

    I love this article … I’m glad to have you as my cousin .. history in the making

  3. Delaine Turner says:

    It’s always great to see people you grew up with doing well! It let’s you know that we lived in a community that it’s products of the environment learned listened and instilled in them that they wanted to be somebody because “nobody is a nobody” says my pastor. Darius I am so proud of you. Keep us posted on the exhibition in January.

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