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Diversity by Design: David Hill

Story and photos by Dan O’Connor

David Hill’s art is not easily defined by theme or genre. His work often varies greatly from one piece to the next in an intentional attempt to inspire creative flow within his workart. Sometimes on his canvas, the brush’s soft bristles are dipped in oil and are used to define the smooth contour of a woman’s body. At other times, sharp tools etch out the sophisticated landscapes of a rocky Virgin Islands coastline. Within variance, Hill finds his genius.

The Tortola-born artist, who was raised and schooled in St Thomas, has drawn largely on his surroundings to influence his work. After graduating from high school in St Thomas, Hill traveled and studied art in many different locales, including Boston, Hawaii and Italy.

“I feel my art reflects these settings,” he said as we discussed his work over breakfast, overlooking St Thomas Harbour. “But this is where I built my career and my name, and I don’t want to change that.”

Hill first started showing his work when he moved back from his travels in 2004. Then, he largely was showcaseding etchings, but had amassed a body of work featuring fine oil paintings and a variety of prints. While Hill said he enjoyed having his work displayed in others’ galleries, he aspired to soon have his own. So, a year later in 2005, he purchased a small space in The Alleys in the downtown Charlotte Amalie’s historic shopping district. “I’d always loved those alleys,” Hill said. “Growing up here, I had fond memories of running to the little toy store back there and that monkey that blew bubbles. It was like a total labyrinth.”

From within his gallery, amid the maze of fond memories, Hill was able to channel his creativity onto his canvas. He worked on etchings, prints and larger pieces that were accommodated by the facility’s tall ceilings. Often, Hill would switch mediums from day to day—again having his art inspired through change. “It takes away a bit of your artistic creativity when you’re working with [someone else’s] gallery, but by having my own I could really just explore anything I wanted: go off in one direction, completely fail, or go off in another and succeed,” he said about his sporadic style. “When it works, the beauty is so amazing because it’s just this spontaneous moment that happens—a performance in a sense—and something amazing comes out of it.”

When I asked Hill’s friends to describe his work, they had trouble conjuring one or even ten words to pinpoint his style.

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“Yeah, I’ve got friends that are artists here that can’t describe my work because it’s so varied,” Hill said. “And I like that. Every show I have I like to completely go in a new direction.”

Most recently, Hill displayed on small canvases at the St Thomas Gallery a portion of his “100 Paintings in 100 Days” collection. The scenes each displays Hill’s take on a Virgin Islands landscape. Each day, the artist would paint one scene. For some settings, he’d sit and paint on site; others, he’d draw from memory or from a previous sketch.

Before embarking on the 100 paintings exhibition, he worked on a project to craft large-scale natural theme portraits—each which took him months to master, opposed to just hours in a day. “I just feel inspired to go in all these different directions,” he said. “When you take the average of it, I’m constantly getting better because I’m constantly challenging myself. Some artists are able to really find a theme and cultivate it in their entire life, maturing it over time. I find that sense of achievement through a different path—by going all over the place.”

Hill recently sold his store in St Thomas and moved to New York with his wife and young child. From the cold climate in upstate New York, he continues to show his work at various galleries, and, while on the mainland, adapts to the environs around him. In recent collections, the red and auburn hues of last fall show through in vibrant form.  The change of scenery allows him to experiment with different landscapes, and inspires a new kind of creative outlet. But for the traveled artist, home will always be in the Virgin Islands.  “I’m always here,” he said. “I just felt like I needed to try something else for a while. It’s these changes that define my style.”

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