• Symbolic Scratches

    Interview with Philip Hinge, exploring his creative vision

In conversation with the artist, discovering works with contrasting or unbalanced paths, characterised by narrative and psychological lines. If we delve into his vision, we can discover a world in which colours, shadowy representations and interesting cats combine to create capturing art . We become spectators of what he calls a visually brilliant display with an undercurrent of ‘unreliable storytelling’.

Your art has an articulated aesthetic, resembling a stream of consciousness. What does creating represent for you? Is it a way to psychoanalyse yourself and the surrounding world?

My whole endeavor does function, in some part, as a form of psychological echolocation. It’s a reactionary process, allowing the work to avoid stagnation. As far back as I can remember, I’ve had an obsessive relationship with impermanence and death. That’s bled over into my relationship to objects. I have this strong memory from my childhood when I was four or five. I was in a field by myself playing with a paper-doll I had made. It was an invented character (some sort of lizard warrior), and I was totally enamored by it. Suddenly, I stopped and stared at this flimsy paper in my hands and understood very sharply that although I loved it now, it would mean nothing to me in the future. The happiness it gave me was fleeting, maybe even artificial. That sentimental shedding has informed the way I work today, studio practice as an evasion of the lows from dwelling too long. In that way the creative process is all about trying to push forward, to grow and keep my energy constantly moving.

Your works have a very vibrant visual impact, with vivid colours and numerous prominent elements. At the same time, they convey deep, sometimes dark and melancholic concepts. Do you identify with these contrasts? Would you like to experiment with something different from what you’ve produced so far?

Those are important polarities to me; that sensation of the sun shining but still being sad or laughing when you’re scared or nervous. I think it stems from growing up with depression and constantly overcompensating socially to mask it. When I started making work that double sensibility starting to show up naturally. I got out of the way and let that side of myself evolve in the work. I believe a genuine experience develops when viewing work that presents conflicting or crooked paths; narrative through-lines that start to negate or confuse their own psychology. Measuring those moods against a visually bright disposition exercises some tension that gives the work a, undercurrent of “unreliable narrator”. Maybe that subversion dismantles first impressions or opens someone up to understanding the work better, who knows. It seems to be a quality that works with my personality and visual vocabulary. I can see it becoming obnoxious or gimmicky as time goes on, but as long as it feels sincere to me, I don’t see forcing a change.

At first glance, your creations bring to mind surrealism. Is it an aesthetic you feel connected to, or is there another type of art that particularly inspires you?

I don’t feel super connected to the banner of surrealism, but I can acknowledge “surreal” aspects have taken root in what I’m doing. I try to work within the logic of the work and not the logic of the world as we experience it, which is a surreal sentiment. The mechanics of my work’s inner logic isn’t canonical or rigorous, it just needs to be believable enough so someone looking at it accepts its truth. There is a danger in being “too surreal” which is kind of enticing. Things in that realm can get cheesy or operate with a thin-skinned symbolism. That transparent escapism either resonates with someone or falls flat. “Weird” and “strange” can easily become “goofy” and “stupid”. I think that’s what keeps me interested in making images like I do; there’s always the vulnerability of showing too much of yourself, or committing to the wrong idea, being embarrassed, or let down by what you’ve made.
It’s probably no surprise but I resonate with artists like Isa Genzken, Jutta Koether, Martin Kippenberger, Jana Euler, etc. They share this urgency to generate ideas while staying open to invention.

Cats play a significant role in your creative life. Incorporating them into your works, is it a representation of daily life for you, or is it a kind of transposition of yourself?

Cats have been in my work for over a decade, and in my life since I can remember. The further I get the more I realise they’re the perfect container for how I want to talk about my world. They offer a different perspective on domesticity, banality, existentialist space. And they’ve been tied into culture so long that cats can jump from historical, to personal and anecdotal, to meme in second. That danger of being perceived of as “unserious” or frivolous because of my persistent cat use only makes me want to do more of it. Telling people, I make work about cats, can be disarming and hopefully creates some misdirection, setting kitschy preconceptions in their minds. It’s another version of the doubling from earlier, expectations being subverted by reality. Within that furry framework is a versatile and malleable narrative and formal device. They have an inherent theatricality and fantastical side, full of whimsy and superstition, allowing room for all the characterisation, psychology, and references I’m interested in.

Your works remind me of the dream sphere. Have you ever used dreams as a point of inspiration? If not, are there themes that you unconsciously incorporate into your artworks?

I grind my teeth and get into arguments in my dreams, which is not what I want for my work (although making art that invokes teeth grinding could be interesting). The one part of my dreams I really like is the frenetic scene changing, one dream usual has at least three or four different locations. Although uninteresting visually, I like how things are just one or two clicks off normality, psychologically soupy but still recognisable. Something like the dissociation that comes from visiting your childhood haunts and realising you misremembered almost everything about that place.
Thematically I’ve been thinking about obsessiveness, a broad stroke but one that is a good umbrella. There’s an absurdity in trying to represent that. Cats are good at this. Culturally we all know about the mental health implications of someone who hoards cats. The cats are symptoms, not the root of problem.

As can be seen from your career, you’re a person in constant creative ferment. Do you already have ideas for your next project?

On December 2nd, I opened a solo show at International Waters in Brooklyn, NY that I’m really excited about. I turned the gallery walls into giant cat’s cradles, using 6000 feet of rope to weave tangled patterns on the wall. I interlaced 1000 catnip toy mice in the rope and then hung paintings on top of it. I’m very interested in creating shows that have two distinctive lives, in-person experience and digital representation. When the show is flattened into pictures, the content doesn’t change, but the way you frame it steers someone deliberately through the show one way. Whereas in person it’s a total immersive experience. I named the show, “My Face is a River”, kind of gloomy and melodramatic reflection of where my head is right now. Matt Taber and Trang Tran, who run the space, are incredibly generous and supportive as gallerists and people, and together I think we made something very special and memorable. Aside from that, other things are developing, but nothing is concrete yet.

Philip Hinge / Symbolic Scratches


Artist: Philip Hinge / @philip_hinge
Interview: Annalisa Fabbrucci / @annalisa_fabbrucci
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko

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