Hilary Glass: her artwork is her work
Aspen Times Weekly
If Hilary Glass were looking for a straight day job, her recent resume would hardly entice a prospective employer. Glass is in the habit of taking jobs around Aspen “for fun,” she says. And for short periods of time, and occasionally for specific purposes that have nothing to do with performing the work itself, or even for pulling a paycheck.
For instance, the job she had at Starbucks: “I wanted a boyfriend, I got a boyfriend. So I quit,” said the 27-year-old. “I met him at Starbucks, where I worked for three weeks. That was a really fun job ” people [who worked there] couldn’t speak English, couldn’t count change.”
Fortunately, Glass is self-employed, and in a field where having fun, and being offbeat and creative are paths to success, not to the exit. Glass is an artist, specializing, for the moment, in large, abstract paintings. And in her selected profession, she actually demonstrates an admirable work ethic. She lives in Woody Creek, where she also maintains a studio, and in the fashion of many of her neighbors, has taken to spending evenings at the Woody Creek Tavern. And while they drink and argue politics, Glass keeps a pen in her hand, and paper in front of her. Each night, she turns out caricatures of local characters, and of such Woody Creek icons as Larry Lefner’s wood sculptures that mark the landscape.
“I have to keep a pen in my hand,” she said. “Since I’m an artist, I should spend at least eight hours a day with an instrument in my hand.”
Glass usually hides her Tavern doodles underneath the other pictures on the walls. Oftentimes, she is too lazy to go to such lengths, and simply sticks the drawings on the wall, off of which they inevitably are taken. When I suggested she could sell them, or trade for burgers and margaritas, Glass shuddered, and defended the idea of people just helping themselves to her work.
“That’s kind of nice,” she said. “I love it when people like my sketches.”
Glass has a particular kinship with the Woody Creek Tavern’s formerly most notable regular, the late Hunter S. Thompson. When she was 10 or so, her older sister, Tiffany, would read Hilary Thompson’s tales of renegade journalism. It seemed just the antidote to the girls’ customary surroundings: “We had Catholic nuns around a lot, as nannies, and that wasn’t proper,” she said, of Thompson’s books.
Even more attractive than the writing, however, and more graphically and obviously naughty, were the accompanying illustrations by British artist Ralph Steadman.
“They were gruesome and super-confrontational,” said Glass, approvingly. “He has radical stuff.
“Those Hunter Thompson books were like kids books, like fantasy. I didn’t think that was real. I loved the drawings. That’s probably why I ended up here.”
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During her abbreviated stay in college, at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, not far from where she grew up in Coon Valley, Wis., Glass aimed to follow in the footsteps of neither Thompson nor Steadman. Instead, she studied physics, but recognized quickly enough that she was heading in an unnatural direction.
“In the end I just gave up,” she said. “I’m an artist. If you go to school for physics for the wrong reasons, then you’re usually an artist. Or a philosopher.”
The course in physics, though, was put to some lasting use. Early in her art career, Glass made prominent use of geometric shapes. She also read a lot of pop physics ” the writings of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman and Janna Levin.
Both geometry and physics seem to inform her current work, an exhibit of which shows through the month at the Aspen branch of U.S. Bank. Her painting “Dozen Eggs” features an arrangement of egg-like forms, among other shapes and visual ideas. In other works, there are shapes that resemble chemistry beakers.
The effect she intends has a relationship with quantum physics. At the bottom is the idea that all things are in flux, nothing is pinned down to a certain definition or place. Her work is abstract, but typically suggests familiar objects. She offers the example of the six-sided Star of David. It is most often a symbol of Judaism, but placed in a context of abstract background, the mind tends not to pin it down so concretely.
“People are associated with that, so maybe they’re attracted to it,” said Glass, who previously showed her work in Aspen at the now-defunct Gorilla Gallery. “And maybe it frees up more associations for them.
“I want to open people’s minds. That’s the point. Not take things so seriously. When they see something on their walls every day, and see the same image ” if it’s a screaming face, your life going to be a screaming face in 10 years.”
That Glass has an off-kilter take on the world is evident after a few minutes with her. The sense of humor that she displays in her art, however, is way subtler. In “Dozen Eggs,” for instance, one section of the canvas is devoted to the color puce. Puce is in the general range of the red/purple/brown spectrum; among artists, there is notorious disagreement over exactly where the color falls.
“There are cults of puce, lots of argument over what is the truest shade of puce,” she said. “That’s funny to me. That humor is in my work.”
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Glass first moved to the valley some 10 years ago. She has moved around some since then, from one end of the valley to the other. She has also wandered out of the valley, and drifted from one occupation to another. While living in Seattle, she spent her time as a street performer, playing a violin strung as a viola. Also in Seattle, she took up writing, and even landed a sponsorship from her employer-to-be, Starbucks.
The Glass family has a history of interesting, creative jobs, and jumping from one of these to the next. Glass’ father is a professor of logic and ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse; her mother, a microbiologist with her own lab in Wisconsin. And her sister Tiffany was an artist, a child prodigy, whom Hilary recalls once had an exhibit of her paintings in which she sold five pieces before they ever made it onto the wall.
Tiffany took a career turn, and became a medical illustrator associated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Then she turned again; she is now doing research in neuroscience.
So there remains the chance that Hilary Glass will once again take up work as a ” and take it more seriously this time. More likely, she is as she says ” an artist ” and will devote herself to that calling.
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