by Dilpreet BhullarJun 10, 2021
Bananas, apples, and oranges. Uncut, but sometimes sliced and often partially peeled. Paper clips and board pins. Cookies and half wrapped chocolates.
Could these form the media to create a work of art? Could these be arranged to form an intriguing pattern, an image, to tell a story? Adam Hillman, a multimedia artist did just that! Best known for his Arrangement series, he organises everyday objects in patterns that are often geometric and repetitive. As an artist he started off as an abstract painter. Later, got interested in photographs taken on smart phone. And with the objective of keeping his images ‘unmanipulated’ (editing using imaging software), Hillman says, “I started to arrange everyday things I found around my house to make my photos more appealing instead”. His works are built on optical illusion and the vibrancy of colour. Objects placed in aesthetically rigorous patterns make for compelling compositions, and in his words, “informed by the American abstractionists like Piet Mondrian”.
I speak with the US-based artist, the master of knolling!
Rahul Kumar (RK): What is the story behind the Arrangement series? How did you get interested in painstakingly putting random, everyday objects into strikingly beautiful patterns?
Adam Hillman (AH): When I first seriously started making art, I primarily created abstract paintings and drawings, and these eventually evolved into abstract photos taken on my phone of my everyday surroundings. I started taking these photos after I joined Instagram in 2014, and I would post them to my small audience, daily. Following this, my friend Harold introduced me to a photography group on Facebook, called ‘Unedited Smartphone Aesthetic Pics’, a group which specialised in unmanipulated photographs that highlighted the capabilities of smartphone photography and the beautiful everyday things and scenes. Because I wasn’t trained as a photographer, I started to arrange everyday things I found around my house to make my photos more appealing instead, synthesizing the abstract patterns of my early paintings and the photography of my smartphone images. I was also very inspired by the ‘Tumblr Things Organized Neatly’, which introduced me to the idea of knolling.
RK: In continuation, did you ever consider using something relatively more valuable than paper-clips or cutlery to make your patterns? Also, you have extensively used food (cut fruits and vegetables). Is that wasteful of something precious?
AH: It is not about the price of the objects I use, but more that it is not something that is normally used for artmaking, or at least something artistically inclined that is applied in an unusual way. For example, while I normally use cheaper objects such as paperclips, I would be completely fine with utilising Gameboys or Fine China to create something, but since I do not have access to those things, it makes it harder to bring those projects to fruition. I have ideas about making a huge arrangement using variously coloured Converse, but right now a project of that scale wouldn’t be realistic given my spatial and monetary limitations. In my food photography I am attempting to capture the ephemeral quality of vegetables and fruits, and even though I am utilising food for an unusual purpose, it is well worth the price for me. Likewise, I never said I throw the food out after I am done, and making art all day is hungry work!
RK: Do your works have layers to be discovered? What is the conceptual idea of the geometric arrangement? You classify these series into ‘art’. Could it be argued that it is ‘design’?
AH: There are layers of conceptual and aesthetic references and meanings within my work, as it is heavily linked to wordplay and puns. Early on, puns informed the materials and objects I would use, such as the pencil in Pencil Pusher, but even now they play a key role in the name choices. Likewise, the geometry in my work is heavily informed by 20th century abstract artists such as Piet Mondrian, Victor Vasarely, and Sol Lewitt. Through these references to art history and use of everyday objects, I attempt to transcend their banal uses and open up new possibilities for how they may be viewed, reinvigorating the way people experience their everyday environments. As design and art are very closely linked in the 20th century art, I am not as concerned with whether my work is perceived as design or art, as I am more interested with the impact of the work than the area of production it resides in. I have done commissioned work for companies and also exhibited with art galleries, and regardless of the format, I approach the project in the same way.
RK: You have created quite a sensation in the virtual world and at this young age. How do you see your practice evolve? What are some of the projects you are working on, or would like to create?
AH: I have been working on the series for over five years now, and over that time the project has evolved organically for me. Instead of forcing my work to change course, it tends to change slowly depending on my inclination, and I am constantly re-examining old projects for new ideas. For example, although I have almost always used food in my arrangements, in the last couple of years I have started to use more natural fruits and vegetables than ever before, which is not something I would have attempted when I started in 2015.
I also did a Lego piece recently, which is a revamped version of a project from back then, as reinventing older themes I have taken on is important to my growth as well. Right now, I am struggling a bit to find inspiration in our new quarantined life, but a direction I would love to go into is in-person showing artworks in a gallery setting. I would love the opportunity to showcase both photographs of my work and installations made for people to see in an environment rather than on walls or phone screens, as gallery representation has been a long-term goal of mine for years.