Signs, Oil on panel, 26 x 14.5 inches
Interview conducted by Deedra Baker, Art Room Program Director
Fort Worth artist Hillary Dohoney holds BAs in Studio Art and Art History from Trinity University and received Trinity University’s Excellence in Art Award upon graduation. The 2016 jurors for the Hunting Art Prize have named her a finalist for this year’s award. Conversant in French, Hillary studied two semesters in France. In Paris, Hillary reproduced a portrait by Dutch master Kobke while an official copyist of the Louvre and spent time as a docent at the Musée d’Orsay. Mainly working with oil paint, Hillary takes the classical approach of trompe l’œil to render unconventional entities. Her work has been exhibited in Paris, San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Arkansas.
I explore the human bias present in everyday thinking in order to understand the tension between our preconceived notions and our ethics. Working predominantly in oil, I use the diverse potential of the medium against the visible background of a wood linen, or concrete surface. The lack of painted background contributes a minimalistic feel to a complex painting. — Hillary Dohoney
Cost, Oil on panel, 31 x 15 inches
Deedra Baker: Describe how your background and education in art history directly influences your art.
Hillary Dohoney: The majority of my work falls under the trompe l’oeil category, a very traditional, representational style that historically crops up whenever an artist wants to manipulate or amuse his or her audience. Art history introduced me to beautiful still life renditions of flowers, fruit, and tableware. Repeatedly, I would discover that the still life artist had surreptitiously added a whimsical or subversive element to his or her painting. For instance, a tiny fly would appear, hidden in a corner, seeming to have just landed on the piece and begging to be swatted away.
I love the subtle humor and rebellious spirit of covert representations tucked into traditional trompe l’œil works. Most people focus on the primary still life subjects in these serious works of art. I, however, long for the flowers and fruit to take a back seat to the otherwise overlooked insects, debris, and other supposedly mundane objects, allowing these elements to be appreciated in their own right.
In addition to turning the tables on traditional forms of art, I also enjoy creating a painting that causes viewers to question their priorities and biases. Why are flowers so often the focal point of traditional paintings? Why fruit? Why people? Why not a receipt from the local Walgreens that’s ridiculously long in spite of having only purchased one thing? Why do we not notice the array of colors in a little gecko on the sidewalk or the jewel tones of a dead cicada? Can’t a piece of torn cardboard be wondrously bittersweet? I enjoy pointing out that traditional subjects are not more worthy of being our focus in the art world.
Becalm V, Oil and resin on panel, 8 x 8 inches
DB: What or who inspires you as an artist?
HD: Most of my work stems from my feelings of empathy. I seem to experience universal empathy, and I often focus these feelings on items typically seen as undeserving of such feelings. If I buy a new paintbrush, I experience feelings of guilt for neglecting and abandoning the older one. Of course, my over-active empathetic musings frequently fixate on living beings, especially those less appreciated by humans. Hence, highlighting environmental ethics is a primary emphasis of mine. Accordingly, many of my pieces directly confront our human biases to question their validity. Invariably, my work represents those that cannot speak for themselves.
DB: Your artistic practice utilizes a variety of media. Why have you chosen the specific materials that you use? How much does form influence content or vice versa?
HD: I usually paint with oils, and I utilize various types of backgrounds in my oil paintings. The primary subject directly influences my choice of backdrop, and my representational style causes me to choose a realistic context for what I am depicting . . . sometimes with an ulterior motive. For instance, I used wood panel for a series portraying various types of paper. In another series entitled, “Overlooked,” I portrayed plants peeking through a sidewalk crack and a bird’s egg, broken from a fall to the ground; reinforced concrete blocks were my palette for painting those subjects. I often want to remind the audience of a subject’s origin, especially if people have tampered with it. Take the seemingly insignificant receipt, for example. The cash register slip was originally derived from an object represented by artists through the ages—trees. Our consumer-oriented world has turned that item into a soon-to-be-thrown-away representation that is outlandishly long and wasteful for its purpose.
Becalm III, Oil and resin on panel, 3 x 5 inches
DB: In Art Room’s “One” exhibition, you exhibited pieces from two bodies of work. As an artist, do you find yourself working on several bodies of work at once or do you focus on a single project? What are you working on now?
HD: I typically paint one piece at a time. If I try to paint two pieces at once, I will eventually play favorites and neglect one. The two series at the Art Room were from paintings entitled, “Irks and Quirks” and “Becalm.” I painted the “Irks and Quirks” pieces a year ago. On the other hand, “Becalm” has been an ongoing process for several years. I tend to work on additional pieces in “Becalm” between commissions and other original creations as a meditative exercise. Painting pieces for the “Becalm” series allow me to step down from my soapbox and reflect on what direction I want my art to go next. As the name suggests, returning to that series affords me a time for stillness, introspection, and calming any inner storms. I also hope those pieces share that contemplative stillness on to others.