Hatti Iles — whose 6 foot 8 inch by 3 foot oil on wood painting “Bonfire Moon” graced the cover of Ulster Publishing’s Gift Guide a few weeks back and will be the focus of the latest exhibit at Oriole 9 starting with an afternoon reception on Saturday, January 9 —came to her singular art the way all her life has landed in her lap. By happenstance. But also as the result of her strong will to follow the whims she cares about.
“There’s a natural evolution to it all,” she says from her Plochmann Lane home nestled at the edge between forest and fields, the high face of Overlook Mountain smiling down on her collection of gardens and village-like outbuildings.
Iles speaks about how important it was to grow up in England, post-World War II, when fairy tales still seemed alive in family visits to castles, Stonehenge, and the old beech woods nearby their Surrey village that also prompted the imaginations of J.M. Barrie, George Eliot, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and Douglas Adams of the Hitchhikers Guides series.
“I was always very attracted to animals and the animal world. I’ve always spent my time drawing animals, observing them, learning about them. For years I was an ‘animal correspondent’ for WDST radio,” she recalls with her lilting laugh. “But I was also always very good at copying other people’s art work meticulously, completely. Until I started to do my own.”
Iles moved to Woodstock in 1970, after coming up for a weekend to visit a friend she’d met during years of travel in Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Nepal and India: the late poet Janine Pommy Vega. She can tell charming tales of old jazz haunts in Paris, where she also attended a Malcolm X talk in the year before his assassination, and how safe and familiar Woodstock felt when she arrived and decided to stay.
“I was a true hippie,” she acknowledges. “I found work painting on leather, then denim jackets and various objects. I also did animal windows, working with cutout plywood, and then got into painting with watercolors. I’d paint on things I found, and have always been a bit of a dumpster diver.”
Iles continued by addressing the many friends and acquaintances who have helped her evolution into the artist she is today. She brings up one friend who gave her a big block of clay for Christmas one year many moons ago.
“A year went by and I didn’t do anything with it so then the following Christmas I was given yet another block of clay and felt guilty,” she remembers. “And that was it for two years; I just followed my inclination and worked in clay.”
Iles notes how she puts together her works, which mix human-like animals in what seem to be narratives, from blank canvases.
“I love just beginning to draw,” she says. “I draw at night while watching television, and then I ink in the pieces and collage them together with pieces of old wallpaper, images from magazines, and other pieces. The most fun is not knowing where a piece will take me.”
The artist adds how she hasn’t done humans yet because “there are so many of us and we are kind of boring,” but may start working some into pieces in the future. But she also notes how when people suggest she does books, she answers that she prefers concentrating on images alone, and working by herself.
It’s similar to Iles’ feelings about the business of art, about looking for more than the many Woodstock and other Hudson Valley galleries she’s shown in to date. She’d rather spend her time painting, making things.
“The workings of life take up enough time. I want my art to be as big a part of everything,” she explains. “It’s why I like the winter, when it’s quieter and there’s more time to be at home, making things.”
And yet she adds that she also enjoys setting herself challenges, and finding ways of pushing herself beyond what’s just comfortable. Iles notes how “Bonfire Moon” was a way to work with darker backgrounds, and learn to paint pure light i the form of lanterns and fire. Which she now wants to perfect even more. Or her observation that many of her pieces tend to feature her creatures meeting each other in the center of a piece; now she wants to work with them headed one direction or another.
Or with humans in their midst.
“I have re-occurring figures: mice with wings, frogs and toads,” she notes. “I also constantly note how much more I could do if I could really paint…”
But then Hatti Iles shares a dream. She’d been thinking a great deal about Edward Hoicks’ great series of Peaceable Kingdom paintings. She’s been turning back to the works’ origins in the bibles’ Book of Isaiah. And thus worrying about getting some animals she hasn’t done yet right, including we humans.
“I just love what I do so much, and the worlds I’ve created,” she adds. “I’ve had a very nice life.”
Showing alongside Iles’ intimately epic works will be a series of pieces by the late Bart Brooks, a Philadelphia-based Outsider artist. An opening reception will run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 17 Tinker Street on Saturday, January 9. For further information call curator Lenny Kislin at 679-8117.