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Moray Hillary, Pre-New Reflective
Curated by Alison Perz

by Heather Zises

July 27, 2015
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Moray Hillary, Pre-New Reflective by Heather Zises “I’m interested in producing art about being human and being alive. These works examine the tenuousness of life and aging.” — Moray Hillary

Currently on view at Galerie Protégé is Pre-New Reflective, a series of haunting faceless portraits and sculptural assemblages by Scottish painter Moray Hillary. Curated by Alison Pierz, the exhibition explores the artist’s personal obsession with the concept of entropy, the fragile decline of youth into old age, and themes of impermanence. Formally, Pre-New Reflective can also be read as an extension of Hillary’s previous body of work, Instability, Inc. which was comprised of paintings on vintage automotive circular wing mirrors.

The title of the show, Pre-New Reflective references new ideas of identity and who we are as individuals. Painted on vintage vinyl LPs, each portrait represents a literal record of a featureless face. Rendered in a style that recalls seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish Master paintings—particularly those of Van Eyck, whose chilling portraits were a catalyst for the creation of Hillary’s signature series—faceless heads seem to emerge from dark ponds. Crowned with contemporary hairstyles, each faceless image presents a tight interplay of tone and texture, and melting fields of color. By blurring the boundaries between abstraction and figuration, Hillary’s monochromatic tondos appear to be incomplete but recognizable as ghoulish beings. The absence of features in Hillary’s portraits are both eerie and compelling for the viewer. Like inverted shadow characters, each visage seems activated with a spectral light from within.

The portraits from Hillary’s current series are a marriage of plastics, made by layering acrylic on vinyl.

Moray Hillary, Pre-New Reflective by Heather Zises

Due to an overexposure to oil paint several years ago, Hillary was forced to convert to the use of acrylics. His change in medium led to the development of a unique painting process that occurs in phases. First, the hole of the LP is sealed with paper and primer. Then thin diluted layers of pigment in water are pooled and poured over the surface. As a result, the fluids become fossilized under a layer of varnish. Similar to the Old Master technique of glazing, this step by step method is repeated until the image is significantly built up with paint layers such that the surface bears resemblance to porcelain or china.

Moray Hillary, Pre-New Reflective by Heather Zises

Hillary's works aim to unhinge us from all of our senses, inviting the viewer to read his pieces from a new perspective. In his exhibition statement, the artist writes, “The painted portraits...are in some way akin to notions of Japanese Ko-omote, Noh masks which have specific carved sections that depict a precise set of complexities...Like the masks, it was my intention to somehow convey a subtle range of emotions.” In particular, Hillary’s new series is deeply influenced by legendary Japanese Noppera-bo (faceless ghosts) and by the writings of Stella Ting-Tromey on Face Negotiation Theory. Tromey’s theory posits “face” or self-image as a universal phenomenon that pervades across cultures. During conflicts, one’s face is threatened therefore it operates like a mask that offers self-protection by camouflaging our true feelings. In author Ruth Ozeki’s memoir, The Face, A Time Code, she records observations made after staring into a mirror for the duration of three hours. Through a series of exercises, Ozeki suggests that the concept of identity is fluid and that it exists on a spectrum. This might explain why Hillary’s characters seem simultaneously timeworn and futuristic.

Moray Hillary, Pre-New Reflective by Heather Zises

Perhaps the spookiest notion to consider is that all of the subjects in the faceless portrait series are friends and acquaintances of the artist. In this case, let’s hope life does not imitate art anytime soon.

Moray Hillary, Pre-New Reflective by Heather Zises

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