By Linda Bernard
J. William Hill is a resident of the East Atlanta Village but his art takes you to the Amazonian rainforest, where the vegetation is dense and lush and exotic birds fly among the trees, allowing you a glimpse of color and movement before they disappear among the tangle of trees and vines.
Born in a small but once prosperous town on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Florida, J. William was raised in a sheltered world: private school in the country, church on Sunday, Friday night football, and weekends on the river hunting or fishing. Today J. William lives in a vastly more multicultural, urban neighborhood in southeast Atlanta with his partner, two dogs, and a life filled with “adventures through the stories I read.” His days are busy exploring the history of the city, taking occasional trips to nearby environs, working in his studio in an artist complex, and taking classes with local artists. In this much more expansive life he feels especially blessed by encounters with neighbors and friends.
We visited Hill’s studio more than once, and each time what we saw was not what we had seen previously. Filled with stage props, costumes, easels with works in progress, paintings everywhere of every size, on the floor, leaning against furniture, stacked in shelves, finished and not finished, the space is a goldmine of inspiration with bookshelves filled with art books, paintings and sculpture by other artists, colorful costumes and props, hundreds of brushes, and even an old kitchen set-up (because he also likes to cook). On the last visit, there was a still life tableau that he and some artist friends were painting – each from a different perspective and viewpoint – food for thought and future discussions as well as an excuse for a social gathering and the creative community that J. William has come to love.
What we found in his studio was an abundance of different subjects to choose from, and because the library gallery is a small space, we chose several pieces that focus on the steamy rain forest of the Amazon (a seemingly appropriate subject as we head into the hot Atlanta summer) though what influences J. William is varied: art that tells a story, from historical realism or fantasy (Manet or the pre-Raphaelites to the Renaissance, Mannerists and even Surrealists); the expressions on a person’s face that reveal a story or emotion; body movements that hide or expose missing aspects of the individual to reveal where the mysteries lie. He draws ideas from other artists he likes, hence painting with friends and taking classes from other artists and sharing what he sees with them. He paints “about issues and pop culture” and what intrigues him. A current subject that has captured his interest is Atlanta’s annual lantern parade on the Beltline and Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans.
J. William is a graduate of Georgia State with a BFA in Art Education though he never really entered the teaching profession having soon discovered that what he really wanted to do was paint. His advice to creative types? “Do what you want; ultimately you have to please yourself.”
The East Atlanta Library is at 400 Flat Shoals Avenue and the gallery is open during regular library hours by asking the librarian to unlock the gallery door. J. William’s work will be on display throughout May and June with a reception on May 11, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm in the gallery, sponsored by the Friends of the East Atlanta Library.