A profound sense of awe, the type that can only be inspired by the grandeur of nature. A humbling sense of the sublime, one that can be felt at the basin of a waterfall’s powerful presence. Challenges to our very perception of the profound. All these things can be seen through the digital manipulations of professor Stephen Hilyard. Artist Stephen Hilyard will give a lecture as part of the University of Wisconsin’s Art Department’s Faculty Artist Colloquium regarding his work in the digital arts and other media Tuesday April 1.
Hilyard’s extensive travels have dovetailed with a deep and varied artistic background to create pieces that challenge our perception of the truth and demand us to take a closer look at our reality and what makes it profound. His focus will be on his most recent pieces, but he will also give a glimpse into his current projects as well as future endeavors that will deal with medium outside of the digital realm.
The Faculty Artist Colloquium is a forum of experienced and knowledgeable faculty artists at UW who are working in a variety of media from varying facets of the art world. Previous lecturers have included the likes of professor Molly Wright Steenson, whose work deals with the union of architecture, design and communication. Future lecturers include Jill H. Casid, who uses the means of “pygrography” and other forms that predate the technological era to communicate messages about the exposure of art and photography. The Faculty Artist Colloquium works in tandem with the Visiting Artist Colloquium, which brings in artists from out of town to display their own work in their unique niche of the art world.
Speaker professor Hilyard’s current fields of study are digital imagery, photography and video that works with themes of the profound, encompassing such ideals as the sublimity of nature and the explanation of why we are drawn to such ideas of perfection that are simply unattainable without certain manipulations. His background is a mix of architecture, bronze sculpting and digital art, which he began in 1999 when he took on a teaching job at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. His travels to geographically variant locales such as Africa, Iceland, Australia and the Arctic have allowed for his dynamic depictions of nature as symbols for his themes of the profound, such as the sublime.
The idea of the sublime does not lend itself well to a cookie-cutter definition, a short and succinct sound bite. The nature of the beast is one akin to the abstract, the transcendent, the macrocosmic and the spiritual.
“Growing up I did a lot of rock climbing and mountaineering. The sublime is a way of describing that experience you get in wild places, the spiritual experience you get in a place like that, that is beyond just being beautiful. There is by no means a simple definition,” Hilyard said.
But his interests are no longer focused solely on the sublime. As he has matured as an artist, his interests have broadened to encompass many forms of experience that he has characterized as the profound. Profound is another word with similar complexity that strikes a deeper emotional chord, an idea that Hilyard says “never quite materializes.”
“People go looking for it, but no one ever actually attains it because it is too perfect. My work deals with the problems facing the profound and how it is really more of an ideal,” Hilyard said.
Hilyard addresses this problem with pieces like his recent gallery, “Mountain,” five digital images derived from lava cones in Iceland. The mountains are manipulated to be perfectly symmetrical to their height, representing the idea of a mountain, maintaining its natural splendor and awe but transforming it into an ideal. Hilyard will be presenting this collection during the lecture as well as another recent piece and one of his favorites, a video entitled “Waterfall.”
“It has all the qualities I’d hope my work could have. It’s beautiful and it deals with serious ideas, but it is also funny and a bit pathetic. I had actually just stumbled upon the footage; I was incredibly lucky. It was not planned, the events just happened,” he said.
Hilyard said the truly important part of the footage became apparent on further inspection. He had not anticipated the final meaning; the piece began to create its own meaning and transformed throughout his work on it.
He characterizes his process as a back-and-forth between intended meaning and the meaning that is shaped by the piece whether it is bronze, photographs or video.
“That’s why I think it is worthwhile to make artwork. It is because of the changes that happen. It’s not just enough to make something because it looks cool, it’s a process of thinking about what you’re making. You have to look closely at all the decisions you make to see if it is helping your meaning,” Hilyard said.
Ultimately he likens his creative process to that of creating poetry: it’s how you pin down your meaning through creating the piece of art.
Professor Stephen Hilyard will speak Tuesday, April 1, at the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, room L160, from 4:30-5:45 p.m.