Christine Hilbert’s creativity fires up under a large umbrella. The Winterset, Iowa, artist studied painting and mixed media at Iowa State University and SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). Life after college found Christine without a job and forced her to get creative with her creativity.
Always intrigued by vintage finds, she began making jewelry from old treasures that she picked up at flea markets and estate sales, first for herself and then for other people as they noticed her one-of-a-kind accessories. She reveled in giving heirloom pieces new life and purpose beyond their stashed-away status in the back of a drawer.
But that’s not all. Her playful artwork caught my eye a while back too, and its mixed media execution gives it presence and interest. My series of artist interviews continues with Christine Hilbert who has mastered the art of the mix.
Think artist and think about only one version of it. That’s how most people interpret art. In simple terms as a painting, photograph, or sculpture. But you work in mixed media. Explain your technique.
Five years ago, I started doing what I refer to as heirloom anthology. I watercolor or sketch, arrange vintage pieces on top of that piece, and then photograph it. It’s a mixed media photograph. I like the idea of combining in a new or interesting way. Sometimes, I produce custom pieces where I paint the watercolor and then stitch the jewels onto it.
Interest in art seems to be a toss-up between people who discovered their inner creativity later in life and those who knew from an early age that they wanted to pursue the world of art. Which category best describes you?
Let me put it this way, as a kid when given the assignment of doing a report on a famous person, I chose Leonardo da Vinci. I’ve always loved artists. I loved thumbing through big glossy art books that showed the works of the masters. When I was young, I also wore a red beret for a year because that’s what I thought that an artist would do. Art was my calling.
The art world has so many arms. What led you to settle on fine art versus another form of creativity?
Much of what I create now was born from not being able to find a job when I graduated from college. That was the downfall. There is definitely a challenge in trying to find the way to take artistic talent and turn it into a career. But no other arms of art hit me in the same way. I wasn’t interested in the educational path at that moment, and interior design and graphic design were not as interesting to me. Visual arts have always been dear to my art. So that’s what I am doing.
Art is often intimidating and misunderstood. As an artist, how do you move the needle forward to attract people who feel like it’s a world where they lack knowledge and don’t belong?
One of the challenges with anything creative is understanding that it’s subjective. You may be moved by a particular work, and I may not. There’s not a right or a wrong, and that’s what people need to understand.
In society, we look at everything as black and white with not as much gray. Sometimes it can be intimidating to go into a space and feel like you are getting it wrong. So many people have a dismissive attitude when it comes to art and think, I don’t know anything about art so why should I have an opinion? That’s wrong. Art is not created for one single group. It can be and should be interpreted by everyone, and that could go in either direction of positive or negative. Art and its subject matter can sometimes cause discomfort. It can be scary to question what is rendered so beautifully. But discomfort can also lead to connection.
Any time that you are placed in front of a piece of art, the first thing that you have to do is come with an open mind. There is something to be said about being present, slow, and in the moment. Be open to what the work is saying to you and be willing to share a dialogue with the artist, not with words per se but by the visual statement.
Traveling seems to be the launchpad of inspiration for so many artists. Are there any special spots that you would like to visit soon?
Paris, of course, is on everyone’s list and is on mine too. My best friend just moved to Amsterdam, and I would love to go there to see her and imagine that I would find so many points of inspiration there. Domestically, I’ve always had a curiosity about New Mexico and can’t wait to explore its natural landscape.
Truth of the matter, I find so much inspiration from nature and architecture. Visiting somewhere new always gives a different perspective. Right now, we are tethered to home, and while it does limit the experiences, it doesn’t stop me from seeing. There is magic in the ordinary, and when you can find that, that’s where inspiration and creativity are formed. Colors and sounds and connections that you make with people can come from being isolated too. The slowness and purpose that you find within a gallery can be used within your life to find the beauty in the day to day.
You studied in Rome. How did that help mold your artistic story?
Rome was the most amazing place for me to study and ended up being a spiritual experience. I was face to face with works that I had been looking at since I was a child. Being that close to a painting and seeing the brushstrokes gave me new appreciation and reaffirmed my passion for this field. The symbolism and history and everything about being there in person with such pieces spoke to me and made me understand that I was on the right path.
In any type of creative field there can be a lot of self-doubt. You have a vision and sometimes you are not sure if you are eloquently sharing that. Going to Rome solidified what I had thought since I was little.
In any field, it’s important to think about next steps. What new things are you trying as you expand your creativity?
The area where I am most curious right now is writing. Specifically, writing and illustrating children’s literature. I’ve already illustrated a children’s book, and I self-published it. I adored the experience. Now, I’m playing with this new aspect of my creativity and trying to explore it further. When I was young, I liked writing, but visuals had a stronger pull.
There is a sense of purpose when tapping into a side of yourself that is loose and without rules. That idea of not having a right or a wrong answer can be refreshing. That’s what experimentation does. It allows you to stumble upon something that you didn’t know you can do.
Speaking of children, art doesn’t seem to imbue the same level of fear on them as it does on adults. Why?
Children have a better understanding of creativity and artistry than any adult. I love observing children as they interact with art. When kids draw and paint, they have no inhibitions. At some point, they reach that level where they feel “If I’m not good at it, I shouldn’t do it.” But creativity requires sitting in discomfort sometime. Being an artist, or anything for that matter, means that you have to have enough confidence to understand and be OK with the fact that you may not always do your craft perfectly.
Embrace your artistic curiosity with Christine’s mixed media creations.