Dan Hillier is an artist whose work is based on collage. To find his source material, Dan’s early inspirations were from the pages of old Victorian books of illustration. Cutting and compiling he transforms and re-imagines the images in those old tomes. From early on, this would form the style for which he is best known today.
Talking to me as part of our Art Related Noise Podcast series with Enter Gallery. He explains just how his work has evolved from those beginnings. It’s progressed and he tells me that ten years ago his work would have been more long the lines of people with animals heads. Or at least people with animal elements mixed into them. He tells me that he’s now moved into something more “psychedelic or cosmic.”
Archetypes and Iconography
“I’m really interested in archetypes and iconography and old traditions, old ancient traditions” he explains. “I’ve always been drawn to it”. The east in particular has held special appeal. He tells me about his experiences travelling in India, Nepal and Tibet. Buddhist iconography and Tibetan art having a powerful effect.
He talks too about how he might feel a power in the presence of what he describes as a ‘good old fashioned Christian icon’. “There’s something that comes from the art of all these old religious, or the more esoteric, traditions that I’m really drawn to. All these three, four, five, six hundred year old pieces of wood still look really popping. They’re capturing something there. So I’m sort of recreating those.”
I attempt to make the connection between his work and a re-imagining of revered and perhaps half remembered deities from the past. “There is definitely a feeling of wanting to bring something back out of what has been submerged for a long time” he tells me.
We move onto talking about psychedelics. In particular, the effects of the Ayahuasca brew made out of plants found in the rainforests of Peru. Drunk in ceremonies it has the effect of being a hallucinogen. For Dan Hillier, the effect has been huge. Not only as an artist but on his life. “I could talk about this for hours” he warns. This is clearly an area on which he has a lot to say.
“It did something for me in that the relationship with my work was made really clear” he says. “I think that was at the point where I thought, yeah, this is what I’m here to do”. Drunk as part of a ceremony. It can last around six to seven hours. The experiences he describes seeming to shift from the intense to the sublime. From violent sickness to clarity of vision and a kind of connectedness with all things. “It made it really really clear that this is a way for me to explore the world, and to express the world. The love for it all that I find.”
The whole experience of what Dan describes as plant based psychedelics is not something new. Certainly he feels that people have been experimenting with this kind of thing in all parts of the world for thousands of years. This inter-connectness of the natural world and how we might experience it seems to be a key theme in the way that Dan actually sees it. “This stuff pops up all over the place” he tells me. “Wherever you go there are people who are working with natural gifts from the earth to experience reality in a different way”.
He knows that some might raise an eyebrow when learning about his views. Indeed about his passion for psychedelics. Nor is it lost on him that there are many other substances that alter the mind which are completely legal. He calls out the likes of alcohol, tobacco, sugar and caffeine. Those mind altering drugs which for whatever reason in the past we have adopted into our normal lifestyle. Which are now legal and permitted.
Being at one with the world and indeed with nature certainly seems to be a common thread in our discussion. He tells me about his need for silence. How getting out in the woods and forests is what he needs in order to reconnect. Hearing this and his experiences with the Ayahuasca I can’t help but to look at his art in a new light. The themes of nature, psychedelics, ancestry and archetypes, blend so carefully with those Victorian illustrations and etchings so delicately cut from those old books.
Artist Dan Hillier was interviewed at his home in Hackney. The interview took place in October 2019. This was part of the Art Related Noise podcast series with the Enter gallery in Brighton.
For more featured podcasts on Inspiring City take a look at these interviews with Elizabeth Waggett, Eelus, Carrie Reichardt, Joe Webb, Louise McNaught, Magnus Gjoen, Lawrence Alkin and Euan Roberts.