Li-Hill: Capturing a World in Flux
*This article was originally written for Decompoz Magazine*
At times, the world can feel like chaos: a place full of disorientation and constant motion in which every thing, every idea, and every being is in flux. Capturing these moving dynamics is part of what drives Canadian-born, NYC-based artist, Li-Hill. Working across many different mediums – painting, illustration, stencilling, sculpture, graffiti, murals, and installation – his work depicts the explosive confluence of ideas and ideologies within society.
At its essence, Li-Hill’s work presents a deconstructed view of the capitalist power structure we find ourselves in, and questions its effect on our psyches and on the world around us. Many of the other issues he incorporates – environmentalism, habitat loss, extinction, and immigration – are by-products associated with global industries driven by capitalism.
“The motivation behind my work comes from the suppressed need to reflect the views and influences our culture has on the world at large,” says Li-Hill. “How the Western gaze, with its speed, insatiable hunger, and boundless resources has not only affected the physical world, but the psychological one, too.”
The artist incorporates irony into his message by looking at the idiosyncrasies of development, and reflecting on the destruction it can actually cause. He investigates the way our society’s innovation only benefits a small percentage of citizens, and often comes with negative consequences for the majority and for the environment. Particularly, he references the idea of the American Dream, saying that it’s only for certain people already within America. However, it’s sold to the world, and potential immigrants, as if it’s possible for anyone. Behind many of his pieces, Li-Hill incorporates the idea of changing the system that causes a lot of these issues.
His work, which moves between figurative and abstract, possesses an architectural quality that is particularly compelling in his large-scale installation pieces. Starting with a concept, Li-Hill lets the idea and his intention be influenced by its final physical space. He says he likes the aspect of his work that is half-mistake, half-intention, and that it’s within these unpredictable moments where some of the most beautiful work can happen. Perhaps this responsiveness to the environment is one of the reasons his work feels like an extension of its surroundings. In some pieces, there’s a sense that they’ve grown organically from their setting.
The artist also finds inspiration in the sublime. The sentiment of the sublime permeated the work of Romantic period artists like J.M.W. Turner from whose work Li- Hill draws inspiration. Turner’s pieces are renowned for their ability to capture divine power and movement within a landscape which is an attribute Li-Hill emulates in his work. Through his pieces, he tries to capture the immense energy and the ephemeral nature of reality.
Although Li-Hill has always been interested in art as a career, it was actually through graffiti that he found his gateway into the art world via muralism and character art. After immersing himself in the graffiti scene and studying fine art at Toronto’s OCAD, he then travelled and created an impressive portfolio of work. He said that street art and graffiti culture taught him a lot, not only about integrity and art, but also about life and people. Li-Hill said he likes the medium because you don’t have to visit a gallery to see it. It’s visible to anyone, and exists outside the influence of galleries and their inherent associations with the social class structure. With street art and murals, it’s just about the art and the meaning of the work.
Moving from Toronto to NYC to pursue his career, Li- Hill felt the difference between the two cities and their perceptions and support of graffiti culture – particularly in the way street art is valued. In New York, some people have asked him to pay to paint their walls, and he says that covering basic paint costs is usually the most he’ll receive as payment. On the other hand, work can receive a huge amount of exposure in NYC. Painting a good mural in New York can get you noticed and can lead onto bigger projects, and more well paid jobs. Though, he does add that Toronto has an excellent mural program, and many funding opportunities for artists. Ultimately, though, he said, both cities have their good and bad aspects. Adding, “It’s never as green as you imagine on the other side, there are always some patches missing.”
Another interesting aspect of Li-Hill’s work is his incorporation of symbols in the form of animals, human figures, and sporting motifs. Though he finds that, in many cases, the reactions to his work are universal, he has had a few unexpected responses.
“Once I painted an owl, and the Chinese owners freaked out because in China, owls are a bad omen for business,” he says. “Needless to say, the next day it was gone. I also painted a panda in Thailand and people were ecstatic with joy. I later learned that the local zoo had just acquired a panda and people were very excited about it. I was unintentionally being very current.”
To date, Li-Hill says his greatest accomplishment has been his installation piece at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. He’s most proud of the moment, “Mainly because my father got to see the exhibit along with other friends and family. I remember going there as a child with my family and being really inspired, so to have a large [45 ft. long] piece featured there, and to see my dad’s beaming face – it definitely lit up my heart.”
In the future, Li-Hill wants to undertake more and more installation pieces, and keep pushing himself and his boundaries. In August, he travelled to Berlin to complete his largest wall to date with Urban Nation Berlin. He’s also collaborating on another installation piece with Australian artist and friend, Vexta, as part of Berlin’s first Lollapalooza. Following that, he will work on another project in Iceland, before heading back home to New York City where he’ll create more installations in many hidden and unexpected places around the city. Ultimately, though, Li-Hill hopes that people will feel energized by the winds of change that are evoked within his work, and that this sentiment will translate into a real transformation within our society.