Various Small Fires is pleased to introduce a solo show of new works by Los Angeles-based artist Michael Hilsman. Comprising large and small scale oil paintings, Man In Water is Hilsman's first solo show with the gallery, following his participation in Frieze Los Angeles' Online Viewing Room at VSF LA in February 2023.
Michael Hilsman works within the boundaries of classical painting to construct images populated by figures and objects that have, according to the artist, a "frayed connection to their own materiality." Using still life, landscape and portraiture, Hilsman presents fractured narratives that incorporate dream logic and exist in an environment that is equally comical, contemplative, spiritually-charged and absurd. Hilsmanʻs canvases portray a recurring figure partially obscured in varied scenes. There is a tenderness and vulnerability to this figure as he floats weightlessly in calm blue water, innocently touches the thorn of a cactus, and lurks behind citrus foliage allowing his ear to serve as the viewer's entry point to the body. While Hilsmanʻs works are imbued with potentially weighted associations; a revolver, playing cards, and the leather glove in Man With Book In Landscape, the fragments in these compositions remain just shy of full articulation, their edges blurred, while still conveying a sense of nearness in the midst of a vast unknown.
Man In Water contains paintings that infringe on the theatrical, inhabiting a space where the objects function as props for a spectacle that has just concluded, and curtains of flora and fauna conceal esoteric meaning. The recurring images in the paintings comprise a lexicon which the artist considers to be "letters in an alphabet that I myself am still trying to learn." Hilsman's canvases often include a horizon line, a distinct mark between water and landscape, or a metaphysical delineation between earth and sky. The figure and rudimentary objects in Hilsman's work seem to exist in various stages of transmutation, at the precipice of disappearance, fragmentary and in flux.
Michael Hilsman's (b. 1984, Los Angeles, lives and works in Los Angeles, California) work integrates and expands upon the formats of classical painting, in particular the genres of portraiture and still life. Through incorporating elements at once ambiguous and curiously emblematic-plants, shells, and feathers, pieces of clothing, body parts-Hilsman has developed a visual vocabulary that oscillates between naturalism and expressionism. His paintings hint at the artistic exploration of the absurd, the latent spirituality of things, and the relationship between the physical and metaphysical. Often inscribed with words or titles on the picture plane, his compositions offer quasi-theatrical backdrops for objects and figures in states of dissolution and fragmentation, either on the brink of disappearance or formed anew.
He has held solo exhibitions at White Cube (online), London; Galerie Sebastien Bertrand, Geneva; and Almine Rech, New York and Paris. Selected group exhibitions include Alexander Berggruen, New York; Albertz Benda, New York; and Almine Rech, Aspen and Shanghai.