Jerri Hil­lis

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page - Story by ALI­SON HAR­BOUR

Hand-painted but­ter­flies take cen­ter stage in the lat­est mixed me­dia col­lages by Jeri Hil­lis, with snip­pets of po­etry, vin­tage stamps and mys­te­ri­ous cor­re­spon­dence from long ago.

The award-win­ning artist pre­serves a bit of the past as she gath­ers el­e­ments for her col­lages that would have or­di­nar­ily gone into a wastepile. Anony­mous letters that would have been dis­carded, old pieces of paper with words jot­ted on them, even hun­dred-year old wall­pa­per from a house be­ing torn down find their way into her work.

“It’s re­mem­ber­ing and re­spond­ing to beauty, to loss, just like the Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel, by do­ing this work with the letters and gath­er­ing the pieces that would have been dis­carded – re­mem­ber­ing and re­spond­ing,” Hil­lis said.

“Letters are a line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween in­di­vid­u­als and the stamps tra­verse the dis­tance be­tween people, cul­tures and com­mu­ni­ties. We are cross­ing thresh­olds ev­ery day, even when we wake up, we cross a thresh­old. As the but­ter­fly is trans­formed and cross­ing his mul­ti­ple thresh­olds or her mul­ti­ple thresh­olds, we do with our words and our art and ges­tures, dis­turb the dust, as T.S. Eliot would say.”

Hil­lis also adds an emo­tional touch to each col­lage.

“I put my mark on the work of art. I am a print­maker and I was an ab­stract brush stroke and ges­ture artist do­ing lithog­ra­phy; that is why you will see the brush strokes in the art­work as well as in­cor­po­rat­ing my own mark mak­ing with these pieces through the pen­cil line.”

Her work is sub­tle and draws the viewer in for a closer look.

The old pieces of paper, beau­ti­ful hand­writ­ing and lan­guage in the letters, and the artist’s choice of po­etry cor­re­spond to the im­agery of the col­lage and the but­ter­flies are all painted with wa­ter­color and a tiny brush by hand.

“People are very en­gaged in these and the but­ter­fly, of course, an el­e­ment of trans­for­ma­tion, kind of like the spark of mem­ory fly­ing off the page, some people take it very per­son­ally,” Hil­lis said.

The Ital­ian stamps she uses in her work are hand can­celed from the 1700s and 1800s.

“I use any bits and pieces of ephemera, post­cards, jot­tings, writ­ing of any kind I hap­pen to come across. People write on all kinds of scraps of paper. I have al­ways been col­lect­ing, you go to tag sales, you go to es­tate sales, people give you things. It’s won­der­ful. You pick through them. It’s art his­tory.”

Hil­lis, of Hot Springs, was a long­time res­i­dent of St. Croix be­fore she moved to Con­necti­cut and then re­lo­cated here eight years ago.

“I have al­ways done col­lage and mixed me­dia work and af­ter I moved out from St. Croix Vir­gin Is­lands back to Con­necti­cut, I started paint­ing but­ter­flies. The but­ter­fly is per­haps a sym­bol of my trans­for­ma­tion from leav­ing one place to an­other.”

Among the count­less awards Hil­lis has re­ceived, her work was selected for the 2010-2011 53rd An­nual Delta Ex­hi­bi­tion at the Arkansas Arts Cen­ter in Lit­tle Rock and gar­nered the Best of Show Award in 2011 at the Re­gional Ju­ried Art Com­pe­ti­tion at the Fine Arts Cen­ter of Hot Springs.

A board mem­ber and sec­re­tary of Emer­gent Arts, Hil­lis teaches the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 5 to 10 year-olds, work that is “very chal­leng­ing, very won­der­ful,” she said.

An artist mem­ber of the Fine Arts Cen­ter of Hot Springs, she cu­rates the cen­ter’s shows and cre­ates its win­dow in­stal­la­tions.

“If you look at the gallery and see the win­dow on the right-hand side, and it has some­thing re­ally in­ter­est­ing and bizarre and dif­fer­ent go­ing on, that’s me,” she said.

Donna Dun­na­hoe, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, of the arts cen­ter, de­scribed the artist’s lat­est work as “con­tem­po­rary but also re­flec­tive of the old world with a nos­tal­gic look. The artist has a sen­si­tiv­ity to these old things that she is us­ing but yet shows them in a con­tem­po­rary way that speaks to people to­day.”

Pho­tos by RICHARD RASS­MUSSEN

Photo sub­mit­ted by Jerri Hil­lis

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