MAKI Gallery is pleased to present Alternates, a solo exhibition by Brooklyn-based artist Justine Hill, at Tennoz I, Tokyo. The show builds upon Pull, the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery, which was held in 2020 at MAKI Gallery / Omotesando. This time, Hill’s playfully assembled paintings will be on view in the expansive Tennoz space, allowing viewers to observe the works from an even greater range of distances.
Since 2015, Hill has worked with combinations of irregularly shaped canvases called “Cutouts” in pursuit of compositions that extend beyond traditional rectangular constraints. Each canvas is adorned with layers of gestural marks in vibrant colors, often in a repeating pattern that instills a sense of rhythm to the overall work. Although the free-form shapes that make up these paintings may seem random and impulsive, they are in fact products of months, sometimes even years of preparatory studies. Hill frequently refers to an internal force that determines how each work will look—like gravity, this invisible yet potent energy draws individual components together to create a unique whole. To harness this power, the artist always worked within self-imposed rules and limitations while executing her works, but in recent years, she has taken steps to expand her boundaries. For example, she incorporates an increasingly wide variety of media and techniques, including acrylic paint, colored pencils, pastels, oil sticks, and hand-printing. In particular, adopting collage has allowed the artist greater freedom while maintaining control, essentially enabling her to “edit” the placement of certain brushstrokes by layering painted paper on canvas.
Hill’s works often come in series, of which Bookends and Replicas are the most represented in this exhibition. Bookends, the artist’s largest body of work to date, involves abstract landscapes each consisting of three equal components: figure, ground, and background. The shapes are tightly knit together, and viewers may discern trees, mountains, or boulders from the glyph-like forms. In contrast, the more abstract Replica series is comprised of shapes directly drawn from the work of Marina Adams that swim in an abundance of negative space. In either series, each work is made up of multiple canvases swathed in a repeating pattern—shapes exist within shapes in numerous iterations, like a group of nesting dolls.
The show’s title, Alternates, is a reference to the “alternate history” genre of speculative fiction. Hill’s work brings together elements from various artists and time periods, conjuring theoretical situations in which the eccentric shapes of Elizabeth Murray, the complex architecture of Lee Bontecou, and the diamond-like patterns of Judy Ledgerwood can all coexist. Perhaps the strongest influence on Hill’s work is the Pattern & Decoration movement, which has experienced increased reassessment over the past few years after decades of being snubbed by critics as garish and trivial. Hill’s paintings share P&D’s focus on everyday motifs and quirky patterns—they embrace the repetitious labor that permeates both domestic and creative life and resonate particularly deeply with a post-pandemic public that has spent so much time indoors.
Hill believes artists never start from scratch; every work inherits traits from a myriad of sources, whether intentionally or unintentionally. By piecing together ideas drawn from her own expressive lineage, the artist recognizes she does not exist in a vacuum, and she cannot make art alone. As if to embody this idea, Hill’s “Cutouts” are entirely co-dependent, sometimes literally leaning on each other for support. Please take this opportunity to converse with Hill’s whimsical works in person and build your own interpretations from her enigmatic shapes.