Joe Hill is a breed apart. His most common perspective of the world is from ground-up — and covered in paint.
At 38, the artist from the UK is synonymous with his artform: three-dimensional art in both paint and chalk. He extends the everyday vantage point by taking it further — and hurling it into the stratosphere.
What you get: to the untrained eye, a detailed painting that may look, at first glance, somewhat skewed. But from the right position, the image is reconstituted and revealed in all its boundary-breaching glory. Suddenly, shapes and images take on new dimensions, and the viewer is privy to a whole new world, through the eyes of the artist.
Hill's technique uses old-fashioned trompe l'oeil, or 'trick of the eye', to fully-execute his vision. Before that, the image is monocular in construct — flat and without the correct depth or perspective. For the art to appear as it should, this requires the participation of the viewer, who has to use either a camera or engage a specific standpoint so that everything falls into place. Once this happens, the mind grabs onto the new perspective and does not let go.
Hill came to Singapore recently to paint the town red, amongst other colours.
Better known as 3D Joe and Max — his former partner in crime, Max Lowry, passed away unexpectedly from an undetected heart condition in 2010, with Hill retaining their original moniker out of respect for their partnership. The Briton is known for his take on anamorphic art. This relies heavily on a distorted projection of an initial image being rendered to its true form once all the right markers are in place — including a little work on the part of the observer.
Most importantly, the artist calls himself a 'people-pleaser' and says the audience has to be able to interact with his art, for him to consider each piece complete.
"When I started getting interested in art, I was quite young. But I always found art museums and art galleries to be quite scary places. Today, although I love many of them, I still find them to be quite removed. So the reason why I really like doing this is I'm creating interactive art that's accessible to many people. And the reason why I moved from chalk to paint was so that people could actually get onto the artwork and not be afraid of it. None of this, 'It's on the wall, don't touch it!' I want people with their muddy shoes on, jumping all over the artwork, it doesn't matter. It's about the experience of the spectator. I want him literally jumping onto the artwork!"
In November 2011, Hill and a team of artists created the world's largest 3D painting in London. Measuring 1160.45m², it took a total of nine days battling the elements and a team of five friends helping for Hill to create the record-breaking street art in chalk. This was officially certified by the Guinness World Records as the world's largest 3D painting — until now.
In Singapore, the artist re-wrote history in a sense with his work at OneNorth's Fusionopolis hub Solaris — a building rife with eco-friendly state-of-the-art features such as sun-shading devices that limit heat gain, as well as rainwater harvesters that defray water consumption.
This time, Hill's project was a completely solo effort, in addition to being bigger in scope that his record-setting work in London.
The artwork here, painted on a 1.4km walkway, doubles up the distance in order to bring home the message for people to step up their individual green efforts too.
"The thought process behind it was, I wanted to go very large — so, it is the largest piece I've done. But the real challenge was to really match up the architecture. Although I love the picture in London, technically, it wasn't a particularly difficult piece. It was more about the stone effects and creating the water effects, things like that. With the Solaris picture, it's the most difficult picture I've done because architecturally, I have got to stay true. I can't just invent a building because the building is in the backdrop. So it's got to marry up. It's the biggest challenge I've had as a picture, so far."
Dominic Khoo, photographer and owner of gallery 28th Février, brought Hill in specifically to work on the piece. Solaris has signed a half-a-million-dollar art deal with Khoo's gallery, and his selection of 3D Joe and Max to set the stage with the all-out effort was no chance decision.
"Solaris was the first building to have 1.4km of external walkway in green. I thought it'd be really interesting if an artist came in and magically doubled this overnight. So, what Joe has come in and done is that he's now made it 2.8 km long. And so I really wanted people to see that, you know, art doesn't just change the way you look at life. Rather, art can have a function and a purpose too. And sometimes the purpose may even be, as in this case, going green for the better of society. His work here is supposed to involve people — it's inclusive and interactive. I think that's very, very important."
For Hill himself, it's projects like these that keep him engaged and painting. He says he relishes the vicarious thrill he gets from seeing viewers' faces light up as his art takes on its intended form in their eyes.
"Because of that weird phenomenon where you're not quite sure what it is unless you're standing in the right place and looking through a camera, a lot of people say 'What are you doing here?' And I get to drag people over and say look, and then I get a smile! I'm really lucky. Without sounding completely trite, pretty much, my job is making people smile all day. I still get a kick when I've been drawing out the initial framework without looking at it from the magic spot — then I'll move back and look at it, and I still go 'Ahh!' when I see the illusion come to life. But if I get bored of that, then I'll hang up my kneepads."
3D Joe and Max blazed through town and left us a little something to remember in the process, in the form of the largest piece Hill has ever done.
Urban art meets a green impetus: a match made right here on the ground, and looking good from all perspectives.