Inside the Studio

The Abstract Expressionist Paintings of Larry Hill

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

The word “theme” in art speaks to the style or motif the artist employs when illustrating the main subject of his or her work. As an abstract expressionist I rely on emotion rather than subject matter and proceed with no preconceived plan. When the painting seems to find its own way, I follow. There is an inner energy based on years of trial, error, and accident behind all my work, but the real force comes when I’m led into the unknown. That’s where all the surprises are.

How did you first get interested in your medium, and what draws you to it specifically?

I purchased a 12”x12” canvas board and a small set of thin tubes of oil colors when I was in high school. I also purchased a half-inch bristle brush that I soon exchanged for a cheap hardware store variety that was much softer. I still remember the smell of mixing colors with turpentine. It made me think of Van Gogh and his madness. I had no idea at that young age just what I was getting into, but it wasn’t long before I realized I was spellbound, probably for life.

How has your style and practice changed over the years?

I’ve gone from academic realism to where I’ve stepped back and tossed the paint at the canvas. Both methods require dedication and hard work to achieve any success. A long time ago, I learned that talent could only take you so far. It was when I moved away from the tight rendering of figure and form and dove into pure abstraction that I felt my value as a painter.

Can you walk us through your process? Do you begin with a sketch, or do you just jump in? How long do you spend on one work? How do you know when it is finished?

I often work on two or three pieces at one time. Applying areas of color that require drying time, and then adding line and markings for movement and structure. Usually, I return to the larger canvases, sometimes for a period of several days, always being careful not to lose the painting’s vitality. And yes, I’ve shoved several aside to be coated out with gesso for another day. But a few survive. To these, I add thin glazes of varnish and pigment until they warn me stop.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

I prefer to work with music, everything from blues to jazz to rock to folk, and finally, country. Lately, Neil Young and Lucinda Williams have supplied the vibes.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

The painting “Dahlia” by Franz Kline. He utilizes color and still maintains the power of his primarily black-and-white work on a large canvas.

About the Author

Aurora Garrison is Assistant Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service at saatchiart.com/artadvisory.