Festival Fodder: Bobby Hill talks Art@TheJames

The James Royal Palm hotel in Miami is the art-filled and colorful setting of this year’s  ADC Festival of Art + Craft in Advertising and Design. With inspiring ocean views and a strong connection to the arts community in Miami Beach, there’s no better place to celebrate creativity and the incredible Cube winning work from the 93rd Annual Awards of Art + Craft in Advertising and Design. Art@TheJames, a collection of site-specific artwork curated by Lauren Rottet of Rottet Studio, is the perfect addition to this atmosphere of art and craft. Titled “An Ocean Apart,” the private collection is comprised of a host of paintings, photographs, prints, and furniture made by artists from around the country.

Among this diverse array of artists is Bobby Hill, a New York-based illustrator turned painter familiar with the worlds of both commercial and fine art. His recent collection of appropriated New York City billboards combined with expressionistic brushstrokes and elements of street art and graffiti is called “The Bhillboards Collection.” We spoke with Bobby about his craft and the inspiration he drew from the Miami landscape (or beachscape) as an Artist in Residence at Art@TheJames.

ADC: You once had a chance to meet one of ADC’s Hall of Famers, Andy Warhol. What effect did that encounter have on your artwork? 

Bobby Hill: When I first met him I was seven or eight years old. I had no idea who Andy Warhol was until someone told me. I remember his appearance and I remember him asking to take a picture of me, but I didn’t become familiar with his work and lifestyle until years later. Ultimately that encounter with him was the precursor for me to discovering the screen print process.

ADC: Your experience seems to blend more traditional fine art with a background in illustration. Does this result in a certain style for you that you can define, or does it depend on the project/piece that you are working on?

Bobby: My style is mostly influenced by Pollock, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Al Hirschfeld, Ernie Barnes and Keith Haring. I take a wide range of ideas from the music I listen to, my life in New York City and current events, and express them through each one of my pieces. My work can always be identified as mine. The size and location of the work determines which element of my background I choose to accentuate in order to complete the piece. I wouldn’t define my style because that limits me creatively.

ADC: How does your style translate into your work with big brands? ADC is calling big advertising to return to its roots and respect the art and craft that go into commercial art, instead of constantly being distracted by shiny new technologies. Do you think that’s possible when working with big brands?

Bobby: I think it’s possible to stay true to my style through corporate commissions and advertisement. I use minor technology in order to form or to research an idea, but that’s not the base for my work. With a big brand you have to consider their vision along with yours. It’s a collaboration. Once I have an actual direction, then technology is out the window. I create a work of art using my hands and any material around me.

ADC: You returned to making art in 2007 after “a long hiatus filled with odd jobs, freelance commercial illustration work and tee shirt designs.” How do you think that period of your creative/professional life influenced your later work? What did you learn from doing more commercial work that has made your current work better or different?

Bobby: The period where I focused on commercial illustration and t shirt designs gave me a new perspective. I found that I was able to work quicker and develop inspiration while I was working rather than waiting to be inspired. I also learned about the fundamentals of design, and to be direct with my perspective rather than just side-view.

ADC: How did you become part of Art@TheJames? What appealed to you about the program?

Bobby: Art@The James has been a great experience. I first found out about it when I was selling hand-painted screen prints on paper in Brooklyn. A representative from the hotel saw my work and approached me with an offer for the first canvas prints that went to the Chicago and New York locations. Miami followed a few months later. What appealed to me was their respect for my work and the exposure, but more so the creativity of the project.

ADC: How does your work fit into the “An Ocean Apart” curatorial statement that gives the collection at the James its theme? How does the confluence of American, Latin American and European cultures, and the lure of the ocean, find itself in your work?

Bobby: I was commissioned by the James Hotel for my specific work and style. I was in Miami during Art Basel last winter at an event sponsored by the James Hotel, spending my days making original paintings influenced by my surroundings. As far as the “An Ocean Apart” exhibition, I knew about the nature of the project and my involvement, but I didn’t know the specifics of the statement. I was just inspired by the ocean because I was looking at it as I was painting, and looking at Miami itself.

ADC: What about the setting in Miami inspired you?

Bobby: The color palate (pastels), the architecture (art deco style), the landscape (palm trees & water/ the beach), the people.  I didn’t have enough of a chance to experience the full Miami art scene, but I did make a trip to the Wynwood section. I saw the surrounding areas along with Wynwood Walls and was impressed with the variety and credentials of all the work.

Image credit: Sonia Blayde