Lily Hibberd

A painter's cinema

In today's visual culture the cinematic and the photographic are omnipotent forms of representation. Our world is a cacophony of visual flux made available by the reproducible media. The moving image has infiltrated our minds and come to reside in our memory. Some insist that our memory and consciousness, our very ways of thinking and imagining are photographic. Given this proliferation of the reproducible image, it is not surprising that contemporary painters refer to and absorb the image generated by the camera. This is not simply an appropriation of the photographic or cinematic, rather it is representative of the fluidity now apparent across visual cultures.

The early history of photography has often been described as a magical process of 'light writing' where 'nature' undertook an artistic role and made images appear on metal and glass plates. The late nineteenth century, much like the early twenty-first century, was paradoxical in that realism and magic collided in the new technological advances being made available to ordinary people. Today the making of electronic images via digital technologies has brought a new magic to the realm of image making.

Lily Hibberd says that she sees 'cinema as a kind of collective belief system, not dissimilar to a church, where people go to escape reality and simultaneously find reasons for living'.1 Other commentators have drawn parallels of a similar kind. Paul Coates, for example, notes that in some countries the screening of a film is still described as a seance.2

Otherworldly experiences appear to seduce Lily Hibberd, especially in the series 'Blinded by the Light' where she makes reference to the genre of science fiction in film. Using oil and phosphorescent paint Hibberd re-creates imaginary moments from sci-fi films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Fifth Element, Altered States and Poltergeist. These paintings, which glow in the dark, also engage with Western metaphysics, specifically discourses surrounding light and enlightenment. In the West, light has traditionally been associated with reason and a male or masculine way of seeing and believing. Whereas darkness has been associated with the unknown and a feminine way of seeing and believing. Sigmund Freud famously described woman and female sexuality as the 'dark continent' underlining a patriarchal fear of the unknown.

Lily Hibberd engages with these discourses with reference to popular narrative cinema which uses special effects to create spectacles of otherness. Alien forces and supernatural phenomena are created on the big screen through the magical boxes of the computer and digital editing programs.

The dialogue between light and dark is pronounced throughout the history of mechanical reproduction, especially in those media that employ a camera and depend on analogue or digital production in darkrooms or in the dark insides of the computer. Throughout this history, which is saturated in metaphorical mystique, the supernatural is evident in various forms. It is a compelling story about rational machines making the irrational and the paranormal come to life through fantasy and narrative, so that delusion collides with illusion to make the unknown and the unrepresentable present on the screen.

Lily Hibberd taunts the viewer. On one level the paintings seem to mock the paranormal. On another level these phenomena are given life as the special effects of the cinema are duplicated in the freeze frame of the canvas. Hibberd is an accomplished painter but she does not always accentuate her painterly skills. She seems to be both a conceptualist and a painter. In some works the painting is foregrounded, in others the cinema and the photographic are accentuated through the painting. It is an approach that encapsulates the hybrid blurring of disciplinary boundaries that postmodernist critics heralded.

The move to recognize visual cultures as cross disciplinary has been on the critical agenda since the invention of photography in the nineteenth century. Modernist avant-garde artists and later filmmakers pioneered the crossing of media and genre where one thing borrowed from another to create a kind of hybrid that was often seamless. Recently the boundaries between disciplines have not only dissolved they have coalesced in ways that make the distinction between art and cinema or art and fashion difficult to pinpoint. This has caused some critics to run for cover and return to the safety of disciplinary boundaries. Rosalind Krauss, who once heralded the idea of 'sculpture in the expanded field', is now worried about what she terms post-medium art, specifically installation, which is a hybrid of many media.3

Lily Hibberd is in many ways one of these post-medium artists. She is a painter who paints scenes from popular cinema. Her paintings are as much about the cinematic and mise-en-scene as they are about painting. In fact the series Blinded by the Light is arguably more about the cinema than it is about painting because the attention to painterly detail and surface texture is minimal.  Up close the paintings are sketch-like, without the lush finish of earlier works such as Burning Memory (2001). In this series the painterly surfaces, depicting fire destroying domestic homes, were luxuriant in comparison to the flickering black and white screen of the video monitor, which referenced Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca.

Art historian, Juliet Peers, has said that: 'On pure academic grounds the paintings were ... suave and assured ... The skills were flawless handiwork in observation of the subject and translation into paint'.4

Although Hibberd is already an accomplished artist, it is the conceptual mix that makes the work compelling for the contemporary viewer. Her incorporation of popular culture makes the work accessible beyond the hallowed white walls of the art gallery. Her investigation of memory, the unknown and the paranormal is ambiguous. The viewer is left to wonder whether the artist actually believes in ghosts and aliens. There is a kind of seriousness to the conceptual content that can be read both ways, leaving the viewer to ponder the tricks and the truths in these narratives and their abstractions. It is a clever post-medium approach where the medium is both painting and painter.

Lily Hibberd, Blinded by the Light, 2002. Oil and phosphorescent paint on canvas, 91 x 153cm. Photograph Ian Mckenzie. Courtesy Karen Woodbury Gallery and the artist.

Lily Hibberd, There is no Death, 2003. Oil and phosphorescent paint on canvas, 91 x 153cm. Photograph Ian Mckenzie. Courtesy Karen Woodbury Gallery and the artist.

Lily Hibberd, Burning Memory, 2001. Installation view, TCB Art Inc., Melbourne. 15 oil paintings, video and audio, dimensions variable. Photograph Ian Mckenzie. Courtesy Karen Woodbury Gallery and the artist.

notes: 

1. Lily Hibberd as quoted in Ashley Crawford, 'Lily Hibberd: Blinded by the Light', The Age, Agenda Section, Sunday May 23 2004, p.19.

2. Paul Coates, 'The Story of the Lost Reflection', New Left Review, no. 143, 1984, p.121 .

3. Rosalind Krauss, 'Reinventing the Medium', Critical Inquiry, Winter, 1999, pp.289-305.

4. Juliet Peers, 'Burning Memories', Art/ink, vol. 22, no. 1, 2002, p.93.

Lily Hibberd is a Melbourne-based artist. Anne Marsh is a Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture at Monash University, Melbourne.