Dragons and Daydreams

Dragons and Daydreams

“The Wonderful World of Ivan Hill” by Ivan Hill

Gallery De Novo, 101 Stuart Street
March 16-29

It’s a funny thing about life that we always seem to want the opposite of what we have. Cue hideously overused trope “the grass is greener on the other side”, and all that jazz. Ironically, this cliché seems to apply even more to those things that we once had and can never have again, with youth being the most obvious example. Every little kid wants to be a “grown-up” faster, even if going to bed whenever they want seems to be their only reason, but looking back I genuinely wish I’d appreciated being a child more. Finger-painting, playing tag, jungle gyms and imaginary friends (admit it, you totally had one) are only a few of the many things I miss the most about being little.

Enter “The Wonderful World of Ivan Hill”, an exhibition of pure, unadulterated delight, precisely because it allows one to indulge in that nostalgia for the past that everyone has experienced at some point in his or her life. The title of the exhibition gives the game away, of course; highly reminiscent of fantastical fairy tales and other childhood fables, it immediately evokes images of all sorts of cunning mythical creatures, adventurous young protagonists and any assortment of whimsical characters. Curious interactions between fairies, ghosts, mermaids and gnomes feature prominently, set against whimsical natural backgrounds: Dark woods, wide meadows, fairytale cottages and deep ocean scenes – in short, anything else you might expect from, say, an illustrated children’s book.

It isn’t even simply the subject matter of the paintings that emphasizes this impression; Hill’s medium is oil paint on canvas, which he wields in a wobbly, almost clumsy manner that largely mimics the effort a child (granted, a child with precociously fine motoring skills) might make in their first colouring book. The result is a bright, charming assortment of burnt oranges, candy pinks and deep velvety blues that makes one immediately crave a Crayola set.

In all honesty though, my intention is not to trivialize these paintings by depicting them as being representative of simply childhood fantasylands. While Hill’s collection does at first glance tend to espouse a kind of youthful innocence, on closer examination it becomes clear that these paintings are not aimed deliberately or even specifically at a young audience. On the contrary, it takes a certain kind of maturity, product of some growth and experience, to fully appreciate them. The very power of the exhibition lies in its ability to provoke that aforementioned nostalgia, that fond remembrance of a more carefree past both elusive and bittersweet – the kind that can usually only be truly felt and appreciated in adulthood. Who doesn’t want to go back to that golden era of games of sleeping lions, knuckle bones, “pedal pushers” and rushing home at 3pm on the dot to watch Pokémon (immediately followed by Dragonball Z, of course)? Hill’s artworks aren’t enchanting simply because they feature bunnies frolicking happily in romper suits and trees that can walk and talk; rather, their real magic lies in making those wonderful, forgotten worlds real to us once again, if only for a few minutes.

As one of Hill’s last-ever exhibitions, in honour of his approaching 80th birthday, this whimsical collection is most definitely worth a look. Go on, pop into Gallery De Novo and bask in that sunshine-y, feel-good kiddie glow again. Personally, I’d take Oshkosh B’gosh over Karen Walker any day.
This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2012.
Posted 4:26pm Sunday 25th March 2012 by Beaurey Chan.