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Glass, looking at a perverse world

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Courtesy of the artist

Hilary Glass doesn’t call herself cynical, but there is a definite dark edge to the way she sees the world. The neighborhood she lives in, for instance, not long ago had an upgrade in name, from the Woody Creek Trailer Park to the Woody Creek Plaza. Glass refuses to go along with the new name.

“I call it a lot of things: Freak Creek, the Dump,” she said. “It’s really falling down, and there’s all this construction going on.”

The “freak” part extends to the people who inhabit the plaza. Glass estimates that she has sketched half of her neighbors, and they are not what you’d call pretty pictures.

“They’re all kind of morbid-looking,” Glass said. “I’m not sure why they turn out like that; they just do. I don’t have any sketches that are angelic. Sometimes I just don’t see the good in people. I feel like people are oppressed in some way, and I’m sensitive to that, and that’s what comes through.”

Among the neighbors she has sketched is a man who repeatedly invites the 32-year-old Glass to join him in his hot tub. Glass sees a lewdness in these invitations.

“It’s like everybody else in the neighborhood — ‘Hey, baby,’” she said.

This neighbor has lots of body hair, and Glass depicted him as an abominable snowman.

Glass also says the sketches have made her quite popular around Freak Creek.

“They love it,” she said. “They know I’m an artist, and they encourage me to do more. I show them a sketch, and they laugh a big belly laugh. Never offended. Maybe I make them feel special. They think it’s funny. It is funny.”

Apart from the sketches, Glass does other figurative work, much of it with a perverse perspective. A painting titled “Hunter Thompson and a Dead Woman” features nudity and the defiant fist-and-peyote-button design associated with Thompson. She describes another of her pieces: a woman with a cash register on her crotch, laying on an upside-down American flag with a needle in her arm and a hole in her head. There was also the “Brothels of the West” series.

Some of those works will be shown tonight, when an exhibition of Glass’ art has an opening reception at the Woody Creek Community Center. But those pieces won’t be on view for long; Glass says the board has insisted that the more provocative work be taken down after the opening.

Glass puts that decision on “conservatives who don’t want their kids to see nudity and religion.” But she is sympathetic to their point.

“A nun lifting up her dress — kids don’t understand that. Better to put science in their minds,” she said.

Instead, the ongoing exhibition will focus on Glass’ abstract work, which is fine by her. She says her abstract paintings, many of them enormous works, are more challenging for her to make and can have a more significant impact on a viewer.

“The abstracts — that’s what I really do,” said Glass, who showed up for an interview barefoot. (She goes barefoot “whenever I can get away with it,” she said.) “The sketches, they’re quick, and I get a giggle out of them. But the abstract work is more important. In a culture where everything is mass-produced, this is completely original. It’s something they’ve never seen before. I try not to be influenced by anything except what’s in me, what’s innate.”

For Glass, the paintings of naked women and Hunter Thompson, as original and darkly funny as they are, are easy. Painting a truly abstract idea and having it make sense and connect with a viewer is more difficult.

“They’re not abstractions of things that exist but abstractions of things that don’t exist,” she said. “But in an abstract I did about music, you can feel music. I think you can hear the painting. That’s challenging for me, to be able to visually represent an idea, a philosophical idea.”

One of her favorite ideas to paint is freedom — freedom from government, from authority. Her artist’s statement reads in part, “I believe the demands on intelligent humans to balance conformity and free expression creates non-genetic social and psychiatric malfunctions.”

Glass’ work has caused rumblings in the past. In high school, in the tiny town of Coon Valley, Wis., she was asked to leave the only art class she has ever taken.

“The teacher decided it’s best I not be in the class. I was a difficult person in high school. Maybe I still am,” she said.

But art is deep in her. In kindergarten, Glass was making art, usually sculptures of glue, wax and dye taken from her mother’s microbiology lab. At the University of Wisconsin, Glass studied physics until, in her fourth year, she had a breakdown.

“I don’t know if I was overwhelmed by the information. But I gave up physics, and that’s when I started painting seriously,” she said.

Glass has lived on and off in the Roaring Fork Valley since she was 17. (She occasionally moves back to Wisconsin to be with her mother, who has cancer, and to help in her lab.) She paints prolifically but not successfully, at least in the commercial sense. At her first exhibition in Aspen, the opening reception drew one person.

“Some taxi driver that wanted to get in my pants,” she said. “And it was a great show, too.”

Much of the work from that show ended up in a Dumpster. Glass understands that sentiment, too; she herself threw two of the pieces in the trash.

“I stopped trying to sell my paintings,” said Glass, who works a full-time job (“physically demanding work that makes me very tired”) and a part-time job at the Woody Creek Community Center. “I have piles of paintings sitting there rotting that might never be seen, ever. I’m sick of trying to sell paintings. I want someone else to sell them for me.”


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