THE PSYCHEDLIC BUTCHER
Dan Hillier on art and acid
by Zara Miller
Artist Dan Hillier likes to dissect bodies. Since his first solo show in 2006, his signature altered-engravings have been exhibited at The Saatchi Gallery and The ICA in London, The Louvre in Paris and galleries in New York and Turin. Having just exhibited at a one-of-a-kind immersive art installation at Shangri-La, Glastonbury, we caught up with Hillier to hear more about his latest creations, musical taste and his first LSD trip.
KOD: Can you tell us about the projects you’re working on at the moment?
Dan Hillier: I'm currently just finishing up working on a couple of new pieces for Shangri-la Glastonbury and also a cover image for Royal Blood's debut album, which will be out in August, as well as putting together a few bits and pieces towards a show of my own which I hope to get together for late July/early August. If I can stop pissing about lying around in my local park.
KOD: Was this year the first time your work will be featured at Glastonbury?
Dan Hillier: No, I had some panels up in the Unfairground a few years ago with the Mutoid crew, which was fun because they're brilliant people and it was the first time I'd been up there ahead of opening time, which was exciting.
KOD: Your art often subverts realities. Can you remember the first time you decided to experiment in this way?
Dan Hillier: In life, probably when I took my first LSD trip 20-odd years ago and, with my work, probably shortly after that.
KOD: I'm curious, what was that LSD first trip like?
Dan Hillier: I was 18 and had no idea what LSD was all about. I went out with some friends to the pub and split a double-dipped Purple Om with a mate, then I crashed at my mate Jon's house, who was lashed up on the booze and flopped out asleep, but not before putting on Ozric Tentacles for me to listen to.
I lay there for 4 hours. At daybreak I went for a glorious walk through a very sunny summer's day in Oxford. I had a great time, watching spiders making webs, stumbling through misty morning horse fields, ambling around Oxford centre avoiding the law and enjoying the sun on the architecture, marvelling at advertising billboards and how I'd never realized quite what silly bullshit was being put out by marketing forces. It was a magical time, like being in a skewed paradise.
Then I had to go home and face my parents who thought my eyes looked weird and then go to work in a busy warehouse still tripping.
KOD: Seeing your work often feels like entering a hall of mirrors. Have you always experimented with repetition and reflection in this way?
Dan Hillier: I actually went through my old drawings from teenage times for a talk I gave to a school recently and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the work I'm making now is very similar to what I was doing back then; the same themes of humans merging with other aspects of nature and geometrically inspired underworlds.
KOD: You often work with historical images. What period in history are you most inspired by?
Dan Hillier: The Victorian period is obviously a huge inspiration for me, and I love trawling through the imagery from that time. I'm also heavily influenced by ancient art – cave paintings, medieval bestiaries, Egyptian art, Buddhist and Christian iconography, as well as the horror books and comics that I grew up reading as a child.
KOD: So would you call your style Steampunk?
Dan Hillier: No. It does get put into that category, and I understand it, but I kind of think of Steampunk as involving technology as well as a modern Victorian aesthetic.
KOD: Do you ever feel like a mad scientist, amputating body parts into such unusual contortions?
Dan Hillier: Yes, all the time. It's a great pleasure.
KOD: Does this mean your work could be seen as a type of printed taxidermy?
Dan Hillier: I used to find taxidermy interesting, but the recent popularity of it has brought up feelings of distaste. It's rare to find anyone working with animals in this way respectfully, though some are.
KOD: Shangri-La’s theme for 2014 is Heaven and Hell, what’s your idea of heaven?
Dan Hillier: Wild swimming on a hot sunny day.
KOD: And hell?
Dan Hillier: So very many extremely dark and grotesque things to choose from in the world…a putout lumbar region.