Phoenixville’s Michael Riley-Hill will feature his work in the upcoming art show, “Journeys” starting this Friday, October 7th, at Phoenix Village Art Center. The show, a joint project between Hill and Carla Shafer, provides “a visual statement by the artists of their journeys through life.”
Hill recently sat down with OUTWORD.Today to discuss his choice of medium, Vanguard career, and newlywed life with husband, Tony.
When did you start painting?
I started painting in middle school, then continued through high school and into college. Now I paint during my free time, at least an hour or two a day. I force myself to block out time to work. I’d like to eventually paint full time in retirement.
Where did you go to school?
I studied fine and graphic arts at Kutztown University. My specialty was illustration.
I won the Terry Lynn Boyle Award for Illustration during my senior year. The award is given to an illustration student whose work has most improved.
You mentioned retirement. Where do you currently work?
I’m a graphic designer at Vanguard in the Participant Experience Department. I’ve been there for twenty years. I do everything from brochure layout design to website design. There are dozens of graphic design teams throughout Vanguard. There are five people on our client design team.
I also get commissioned every now and then to do illustration or painting.
Which painting medium do you prefer?
When I began to paint, I preferred watercolor. Nowadays I move between acrylic and watercolor depending on my mood and the look I want. Both are quick to dry and easy to use.
I paint a bit differently than most people. I paint in sections. This technique drove my painting teacher crazy, because this strategy makes it more challenging to keep colors consistent and the overall piece uniform, but it works for me. I see each little section of the painting come to life as I work, down to the finest detail. Every now and then I have to go back and remix the paints to keep the color consistent, but I’ve gotten used to it by now.
He tried to teach me his strategy – painting in layers, but the system failed to work for me, so he told me to go back to painting my way.
I’d like to try oil paint, but I’m not sure I’m ready to make that investment yet. I’ll probably try a starter kit to see how I like it first.
Do you ever get tired of what you’re painting?
Every now and then, when I get to the little details, I’m ready to walk away, but force myself to keep going. The bricks in my Provincetown piece drove me crazy. I knew they needed to be done, because they brought the piece to life, but the technique was extremely tedious. When I was finished, I was grateful I didn’t give up. It put a much-needed finishing touch to the piece.
How do you choose your subject?
I honestly just look at something and say, “I want to paint that!” My husband Tony laughs when I find my subject. He’ll say, “why that?” And I’ll smile and just say, “because I like it.” I’ll snap a photo and then take it home to paint.
My paintings represent the places where I grew up, call home, and have visited along the way.
My work represents rich and vibrant accounts of ordinary life, sometimes gritty and real and sometimes picturesque. My work is heavily influenced by architecture and nature. I believe that both nature and architecture are intertwined and seek out subject matters that have light, color, and texture to show the beauty of how I perceive the world.
Which piece does Tony like best?
Tony likes a number of my pieces, but I’d say that his favorite is the picture I painted in Provincetown, Mass. of the home on the cape. Provincetown is one of our favorite places to visit and the place where we originally exchanged vows. In fact, the piece rested on a mantle above us during our wedding in June. I’ve tried to sell that piece since, but he won’t let me.
I recently showed the piece at the For the LOVE of Art event with the LGBT Equality Alliance at Franklin Commons. It was popular among the event attendees, since many vacation in Provincetown during the summer.
How did you meet Tony?
Like many gay couples, we met online. We’ve been together for seven years. Tony and I originally married in Provincetown in 2010 with a commitment ceremony. Although legal in Massachusetts at the time, the marriage was not valid in PA. So on June 4th of this year, we held a ceremony for friends and family and were married by Phoenixville mayor, Michael Speck.
Have you won any other awards?
I recently won honorable mention at the Chester County Art Association for my watercolor painting “Sweet Dreams”. And last year I won the Annual Member’s Show in Phoenixville. The prize given was this upcoming artist show.
Who do you feel is your mentor?
I consider Teresa Haag a mentor and friend, not to mention a talented artist. She has painted many murals around the region, including the now-popoular picture of the old steel town on Starr Street in Phoenixville. She encouraged me to get involved in the Chester County Studio Tour, which has already had a positive impact on my work and career. She pushes me to paint more often and I feel like my work has come a long way because of her mentorship.
Tell me about your upcoming art show.
The show, titled “Journeys,” will run through the month of October at the Phoenix Village Art Center. The Art Center will be open Fridays from 5PM-9PM, Saturdays from 2PM-8PM, and Sundays from 2PM-5PM. There is an artist’s reception this Friday, October 7th from 5-10PM with refreshments.
Michael’s artwork can be seen on his website at mrileyhillart.com.