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Interview with Paul B. Hill, April 8, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Paul B. Hill, April 8, 2008
April 8, 2008
Interview with metal sculptor Paul Hill, in which he discusses his career as an artist and the tools and techniques of his craft.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Hill, Paul Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  4/8/2008 Series:  Arts Length  90 minutes


Hayes: Okay. Welcome today. My name is Sherman Hayes, I'm the university librarian at UNCW Randall Library. And today, we're talking to Paul B. Hill, is that what you go by? Paul?

Hill: Well, yeah. Paul Hill.

Hayes: Paul Hill.

Hill: Right.

Hayes: And you're a well known artist in this area. I guess if I had to categorize you, you'd call yourself a sculptor?

Hill: Yes. I'm a metal sculptor.

Hayes: A metal sculptor.

Hill: Metal sculptor.

Hayes: Okay. We'll get to that and see what that means. But by looking at you, I can see that you're not a 21 year old. So before we talk about your years here in Wilmington, why don't you get us started? Where did you grow up, how did you get into this kind of interesting business?

Hill: Well, it is interesting, and I really do like it. And it's been a series of trials and errors, I guess. Trying one medium, trying another medium, trying to find what I really like, trying to express myself the best way I feel I can. I was born in Tyler, Texas. And my grandfather had a photographic studio down there. And I used to play around down there in the shop, and get into the cameras and the cases and all that kind of stuff.

Hayes: So you grew up pretty much in Texas the whole time?

Hill: I spent a little bit of time in Texas. And then my dad was stationed down there during World War II. So we were down there for a while. And then they moved back to Ohio, where I spent a good bit of my life. Went to college there, went to Kent State University.

Hayes: In art, or not in art?

Hill: In art.

Hayes: Oh, interesting. What about in high school?

Hill: In high school?

Hayes: Because, you know, today we have some curriculum, but lots of people have talked about it not being available. I mean, did you do any art at all?

Hill: Well, in high school, yeah. I did do art in high school.

Hayes: Wow. Oh, that's great.

Hill: Of course my era of high school was different than the era of high school today, I believe.

Hayes: Yeah. Right.

Hill: Today I think they're more directed towards fine arts, I think. I would hope. Because I know when I was in high school, there wasn't much in the way of art as a directive. It was mostly social studies, math, that type of thing. But I got my primary interest in art, I think, just when I was a little kid. As far as back as I can remember, I was always drawing something. Always illustrated ________________

Hayes: So there was that kind of art, not so much sculpture, that triggered anything. And photography, you said, was the other one.

Hill: Well, and I did a lot of-- yeah, yeah. I guess from an early age, it was just drawing, sketching, and that kind of thing. I don't know, I guess the real art--

Hayes: ______________ that down just a hair. Well, we want to see the whole--

Hill: The whole thing.

Hayes: The whole (laughs)

Hill: The whole deal.

Hayes: That's fine. So you went to Kent State.

Hill: Kent State.

Hayes: In art.

Hill: In art.

Hayes: Oh good.

Hill: Yeah.

Hayes: Did you even have to submit things and tell them you were great, or did they accept you?

Hill: (laughs) Well, that was my major when I was school, it was in my major. I was in fine arts, primarily in painting. I don't even think I thought about sculpture at that time.

Hayes: Interesting.

Hill: I was primarily an illustrator, a painter. And then when I got out of school, I was-- I mean, I considered myself an illustrator.

Hayes: What year did you graduate from....

Hill: Oh, I've got to think about it.

Hayes: Yeah.

Hill: Taking me back here, Bud. '74. Because I was in the military. I was in school for a while and....

Hayes: Went in the military, and then came back?

Hill: Went in the military, came back. I've got to think here, '74, '75, something like that.

Hayes: No, it's all right. I'm just getting a sense. I mean yeah. It's for the person of what era of art education you were in, is all. As opposed to '84, or '85.

Hill: Oh yeah. And came out of school and sometimes I feel like I missed a real opportunity when I was in college. Which, I guess everybody has regrets of one thing or another. And I did have one instructor take me under his wing. And it was life drawing, which I did excel at life drawing quite a bit.

Hayes: Oh good. Now life drawing is what, for the person who's just reading this?

Hill: Oh, life drawing is where it's basically figure-oriented illustration work.

Hayes: With live models?

Hill: Live models in various mediums of charcoal pencil, color. And I seemed to have a real good grasp of that. And one of the professors kind of wanted to-- I kind of felt like I really-- felt like I missed something, because I could have gone on to a different level maybe with that. But it never happened, so, you know, I can't--

Hayes: Do you still do any? I mean, do you still use that at all?

Hill: I've used it in the sense that it's fun where I'm just sketching. If I'm going some place and I'm people watching, that kind of thing. But no, I never did do much of anything with that. But painting and illustration was primarily my basic good form. But it changed. Did a bunch of editorial illustrations for magazines. Did a lot of canvas work, acrylics. I had one painting in the, I think they call it the Southeastern Juried Exhibition that was at the Cameron Museum of Art.

Hayes: Wow. But this was at this time period?

Hill: This was about maybe 10 to 12 years ago. This was a while back.

Hayes: All right.

Hill: When I was here.

Hayes: Well, how did you end up at Wilmington? So you were trying to make a living as an artist then?

Hill: I was trying to make a living as an artist. And had a friend-- well, actually, my wife and I used to go to Sunset Beach for vacations.

Hayes: But were you based in Ohio for a long time then?

Hill: For a long time I was in Ohio.

Hayes: Okay. No, I mean that's fine.

Hill: Yeah. But I would travel a bit. I was making trips out to California and seeing what was going on out there. And a little bit up and down the East Coast, but primarily we'd go to North Carolina for a good while. Because I met a friend, when I was doing illustration work, I met a friend who worked for Panama Jack. At that time, they were doing a lot of skin products, and I think their primary business was skin tone products. And then they ventured into clothing.

Hayes: I was going to say, apparel is what they're known for.

Hill: So I did a lot of work with that company, Panama Jack.

Hayes: So you were really a commercial artist--

Hill: Commercial artist, right.

Hayes: --in the sense of, you did art, but it was under contract.

Hill: Mm-hm.

Hayes: Never worked for a company per se?

Hill: I worked for-- yeah, I worked for some advertising agencies. I forgot all about that. Yeah, I was an art director, department manager for some of the ad agencies. And did a lot of that type of work also. But I didn't-- that was, you know, that was kind of the nine to five thing. And I'm never real good at that. I never have been real good at that.

Hayes: I don't know how many artists are.

Hill: Yeah. You know, I think that's a tough-- that for me, that was very hard to do. It's a, you know, regimented time frame. And I just don't work real well that way. But I did, you know, during those times. And they were interesting jobs, but I could see that that wasn't _________________.

Hayes: And while you were doing those day jobs, were you continuing your art in off hours?

Hill: Yeah, I would still paint and that type of thing. Yeah, it wasn't something I wanted to make a career of doing. So those jobs came and went. And I would freelance. And maybe another job would come along and they'd offer me some money and I'd go "Well..."

Hayes: (laughs)

Hill: I'll try it.

Hayes: I'll try it.

Hill: Yeah.

Hayes: That's great. So you vacationed at Sunset.

Hill: So vacationed at Sunset. And I think during one of those Sunset trips, we ventured up to Wilmington and just kind of fell in love with the place. It was just gorgeous. And you know, that was back in like '85, something like that.

Hayes: Boy, it's a different place than now.

Hill: Oh yeah.

Hayes: Nice place.

Hill: Early '80s, and just kind of fell in love with it. And met a fellow right off of the beach there that owned the Caribbean Trading Company. And it was a clothing store, and it's down-- well, he sold clothes, windsurfing equipment, surfboards, and had a windsurfing place right there across the bridge at the water, where he'd rent kayaks.

Hayes: In Carolina Beach?

Hill: No, right here in Wrightsville Beach.

Hayes: Oh, Wrightsville, okay.

Hill: Right here in Wrightsville Beach. And kind of hooked up with him, and he said, "Well, if you're an artist, maybe you can do some graphics with the building." And I said "Yeah." So I ended up getting that job with him doing all these graphics on his building. And I said, "Man, I just-- you know, we've come down here so much, I just don't really want to leave." And he knew somebody that was looking for a controller at Bennett Brothers Yachts, which is where my wife works now. She's the controller for Bennett Brothers Yachts. And he called, at that time, Paul Bennett, who has since...

Hayes: Who was Bennett of the Bennett Brothers?

Hill: Mm-hm.

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: And she flew down and met with him, and spent like three hours in the interview, and was hired. And so I think two weeks--

Hayes: Wow. And that's a big concern now, isn't it? I mean, Bennett Brothers Yachts? I mean, it's been growing all these years.

Hill: Oh, it's never stopped, it's huge.

Hayes: But at that time, it was fairly early in it's--

Hill: At that time, they were up on Market Street. And they were renting a big building back off of Market Street, up towards Porters Neck. And since have moved down on to the Cape Fear River and have just strings of docks and slips. Yeah, they've really grown.

Hayes: And she's grown with it. Is she still there?

Hill: On yeah, yeah.

Hayes: That's great.

Hill: And she is still there and loving it.

Hayes: Good. So you decided to relocate.

Hill: We relocated.

Hayes: And what art were you doing at that time? Then you were still going to try to do some commercial art?

Hill: Well, at that time, yeah, I was still doing commercial art. Did design work, some graphic design work. Had a little studio where I was designing logos for people, and some brochures, and still doing some painting. And I'm trying to think of my steps of progress here.

Hayes: Well, we don't have to know in detail.

Hill: Yeah.

Hayes: So when did the epiphany come that you're going to become a sculptor? I mean, this is quite a leap, that's what I'm trying to say, quite a leap from a painter. Because later, we're going to talk to you about the tools you use are a little bit different than a painter.

Hill: Yeah. Well, I still kept some brushes up there, but-- (laughs)

Hayes: So that was what I was curious about.

Hill: Oh, okay. Yeah.

Hayes: How you--

Hill: Well, I was still doing design work and still painting. But in the back of my mind-- I've always loved sculpture. And even when I was at Kent, I was taking sculpture classes. And I just thought about that, because I remember pounding clay. And that was a chore. But yeah, I did do a lot of clay work, with the human form again.

Hayes: Modeling, yeah.

Hill: So while I was busy here "graphicking" [ph] and being more frustrated. Because it seemed like everybody at that time was becoming a graphic designer too, because they had all their computers and everybody could do it on their own computer. And I was frustrated with the computer. You know, I would rather sketch something by hand and scan it into the computer rather than-- because I never did learn really to use the Illustrator program.

Hayes: Yeah. It wasn't easy.

Hill: I didn't want to. I was just an illustrator. So for years, I'd been thinking about sculpting. I mean, it was just in the back of my head. I wanted to sculpt, but I didn't know what to do with those thoughts. They were just formulating. They were kind of brewing. But I continued to think about it. And it always would pop up in my head, just on its own. So I think while I was still, you know, trying to make money as a designer and an illustrator, one day I came downstairs and I had some metal. And I thought, "Well, let me do something with this." And it was some pretty thin gauge metal, so I could cut it with shears. And I decided, "Well, I'm going to make this little fish. What the heck." And I made a little fish. Drilled some holes and pop riveted it together. And I thought, "Well, it doesn't look too bad." And then I made, I think these were the first two projects. I made a little angel for my wife for Christmas. And so she really liked that. And I thought, "Well, that's not bad." I thought, "Well, maybe there's a possibility here." So I continued to progress in this metal thinking. And I liked the way it was going because I didn't predicate the pieces on anybody else's work. It was only what I had been thinking about doing for all these years.

Hayes: Interesting. And you chose the fish partly because--

Hill: I chose the fish because, well, for my first sculpture, I thought, "Well, it's kind of easy." And fish is such a dominant element in this area.

Hayes: Yeah. That's why I say, it was a logical--

Hill: Yeah, kind of a logical thing to make, just as a first piece. And it was pretty satisfying, you know. And that's actually how it got started, with the angel for my wife and that little fish. And from there, they just started to materialize a little more. They got bigger, different materials.

Hayes: Interesting.

Hill: But it was still all the rivets and the hand cutting.

Hayes: Yeah. Because the tools would not be as extensive with that?

Hill: Right.

Hayes: Is that part of it?

Hill: Yeah. So it was a thin gauge steel. Thin gauge stainless, thin gauge cold steel, which is just a--

Hayes: But you didn't seek out and say, "I'm going to go back to school," or something like that. You were really pulling on many, many years before training.

Hill: Mm-hm.

Hayes: And of course your art training. But I'm saying you didn't decide, "Well, I'd better go study with somebody," or anything like that.

Hill: No. I didn't really think about that. I'm more of I guess kind of a do it yourself kind of artist. Which is good and bad, I guess. Or not necessarily good or bad. It's just a way of approaching it.

Hayes: I wouldn't say you're totally self-taught--

Hill: No.

Hayes: --if you have a degree in art. So you have your basic foundation was coming from training.

Hill: Right.

Hayes: But as far as the sculpture part, you really taught yourself then.

Hill: Yes. Yeah, I would have to say that. Yeah.

Hayes: And you're still in metal sculpture.

Hill: Still in metal sculpture.

Hayes: Yeah. We're going to see some of that later.

Hill: The more I do--

Hayes: Did people start to see it and you start to sell it? How did the word get out that all of a sudden you were here and available to do metal sculpture? I mean, that's kind of--

Hill: Yeah. Well, that's still ongoing. That never stops, that kind of trying to get your name out there.

Hayes: Well, I'm just saying that you weren't aiming to, say, the commercial market, where you're going to have 43 fish out at a restaurant for sale.

Hill: No.

Hayes: In other words, you were not doing that approach.

Hill: No. I did, I think the first serious pieces of work-- I guess years ago you called it serious because it was your first pieces. But a friend of mine, Estelle Baker, who owns the Fisherman's Wife, and there was a restaurant across the way that she had. And she had let me put a series of fish in that lobby area, into the restaurant.

Hayes: Great.

Hill: And it really looked good. I had a couple of pieces on pedestals, and the rest of them went on the walls. And they were made from steel, stainless steel, copper. So there were some wall mounted pieces as well as some free standing pieces. And I guess that's my very, very first exposure to anybody else about what my work was doing at that point. And I didn't really sell anything down there, but at least it was just, that's where they were initially, you know. And I think from there (sigh), yeah, I tried-- to get my name out there, I pursued a lot of shows, I tried to get in a lot of shows.

Hayes: And there are shows for sculpture, or for the fine arts--

Hill: Well, there's art shows. The Airlie Gardens used to have art shows every spring or midsummer, and I would get involved in those. You get a booth. And there weren't many-- they don't do it anymore, but I did do that.

Hayes: Were there competitions also that you can enter in the sculptural world? It doesn't seem like, you know, how you would do that, because they're such physical pieces. You know, like I'll ship my several hundred pound item to you or something. That would be kind of a challenge.

Hill: Well, competitions, they have competitions in the way of, cities offer grants. Cities offer availability of public sculpture.

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: So you put together a body of your work in the way of slides or CD. You fill out resumes, bios. You submit those to whomever is offering the award or the commission. And you know, you're thrown in with a bunch of other sculptors, and hopefully, you will get down to the final selected group. At that point, you generally submit a maquette or your idea of--

Hayes: What's a maquette?

Hill: A maquette is a small sculpture of what the big one is going to be like.

Hayes: Okay. So these are for significant, large pieces?

Hill: Mm-hm. The large public sculpture. And then from there, you either get the commission or you don't. But generally, if you make it to that point, they're going to pay you a stipend.

Hayes: For doing all that work? I mean, because--

Hill: For doing the work.

Hayes: It isn't free to make the sample, right?

Hill: Well, generally not, no. If you make it to that point, they do pay you a stipend. And sometimes, you'll go to the site and they'll give you some money for travel and that kind of thing.

Hayes: Is that an area that you've done _______________.

Hill: That's an area I'm trying to pursue right now. My final goal-- call it final.

Hayes: (laughs)

Hill: Sounds kind of-- don't go final. But one goal is to be more involved with public sculpture.

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: A lot of it's being done here in Wilmington right now, a lot of public sculpture, through the Creative Wilmington.

Hayes: You were part of that, you've already had some, is it called the pedestrian art program?

Hill: Pedestrian art program, right.

Hayes: Well, why don't you tell us about what that is? I know what it is, but the person listening doesn't know what that is.

Hill: Well, in Wilmington, they have a program called pedestrian art. And it's run by Matt Dols, and it's Creative Wilmington. They commission artists to display their works around Wilmington and at various places for about six months at a time. Sometimes you can get a couple sculptures displayed, maybe just one. They pay you a stipend also for six months.

Hayes: So they're really renting it in a sense.

Hill: They kind of rent the sculpture.

Hayes: Yeah. You have to make it.

Hill: Right.

Hayes: But after you're done with it, the sculpture comes back to you, you own the sculpture.

Hill: Correct.

Hayes: Or unless somebody buys it.

Hill: Unless somebody buys it, right. It'll come back.

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: So that's a program I'm involved in and have been. And I've had a number of pieces in town. And that's been a good, been good for exposure. And I have another piece right now that I'm getting ready to have lifted down to Racine Drive in front of the Blue Moon. And that'll be down there, that's a large piece.

Hayes: Now, when did you start to add size? I mean, is size now becoming something that-- size in the sense that we can talk about a small 12-inch fish, or some of the things that would go into a whole. Versus now, I've seen one of your works that you did was a three foot fish. As I drive into your house I see large metal sculptures. And I see-- is that a giraffe out there, that's about eight foot tall.

Hill: Yeah.

Hayes: Was there some point that something compelled you to say I wanted to go bigger?

Hill: Yeah, it was. But I can't explain what it was.

Hayes: Okay, that is fine.

Hill: I was making smaller pieces. Even when I first started making fish, not that I make fish.

Hayes: You do a sculpture that happens to be a fish.

Hill: But that's what I started with, but it's evolved. Even some of those pieces were large. And I don't know what made me go to large. It just feels like a natural thing to do. Like, when you go to bed, you lay your head on the pillow. It's kind of that kind of thing. It's just, I want to make large pieces. I don't know why, and I can't explain why.

Hayes: But that is a big tradition in the sculptural world, right? In other words, particularly if you go with the public sculpture and so forth--

Hill: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: You want it to be seen.

Hill: Oh, absolutely.

Hayes: It's something that painting can't do. It's a distinctive thing. I mean, as we think about Moore and some of those folks, you know, and they're 15, 20 foot of blocks.

Hill: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: So I'm saying, you're in a fine tradition to go large.

Hill: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: But there is also another market of sculpture that's kind of for the private household. You know, the small detailed figures.

Hill: Right. I just finished a commission for a family in Charleston, South Carolina. And it was a big piece. It consisted of three pieces, and it was based on the work that I have done for a show that was at the Cameron, since has been bought by Oceanic Restaurant. And they're large, abstract fish. I mean, totally abstract in that you couldn't say, "Well, that's a trout or that's a tuna."

Hayes: Describe the metal elements in them. I think that would be interesting. Your eye is made out of...

Hill: There are no eyes.

Hayes: No eyes, okay.

Hill: There are no eyes. That's another thing I've been doing. I've kind of-- well, that's another story. But there are no eyes in these fish. But they are swimming up the stairs. So once you take your first initial three steps up to the restaurant, which is on the second floor, the fish are kind of in your face. And then as you turn to go up, they're swimming upstairs, but they're hanging from the ceiling. And there are some wave forms and that type of thing. And all the fish are made from stainless steel. So they do catch a lot of light. And the way they hang, sometimes if the breeze blows, they do a little bit of a wiggle. But it's all polished stainless steel.

Hayes: But when you're doing fish in a school or fish in combined, the challenge is the whole work, right?

Hill: Right.

Hayes: Not just each individual one.

Hill: Oh yeah.

Hayes: So it's really a kind of an--

Hill: It's an installation.

Hayes: Installation, yeah, that was what I wanted to talk about.

Hill: Installation piece. Right. Almost site specific, where the Cameron asked me to do these particular fish. And they said, "Well, we're going to hang them here." So you kind of plan your piece on the space you've got.

Hayes: All right. I think that's an interesting concept, because either in a competition or commission, you're now working with a client, right?

Hill: Right.

Hayes: And so it's an interesting negotiation of your art, but what they need.

Hill: Exactly.

Hayes: As opposed to, do you do some that are just "I do this, it's my abstract," and then you find some outlet to sell it? I mean, that's a different model.

Hill: That's a different thing, you do. Right.

Hayes: But I don't know in sculpture, if there's much of that. I mean, large sculpture, I can't find too many places where you could invest all that metal and all that time.

Hill: Mm-hm.

Hayes: And your pieces are not inexpensive by the time you're done.

Hill: No.

Hayes: You know, you're not the $35 fish for your house type thing.

Hill: Right.

Hayes: So by definition, do you think it has to be almost this kind of commission relationship type of product for a sculptor?

Hill: Well, like you say, there's two avenues there. You've got your private commissions, sort of people who want work. And then you've got the larger pieces that might go into a public venue.

Hayes: But you haven't really ever gone what I would call the sculptural gallery approach, right? In other words, where you do the work speculatively, and then you put it in, hoping that someone would--

Hill: Oh yeah, I've done that.

Hayes: Oh, you have?

Hill: Oh, yeah. I mean, I've been in galleries.

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: It's hard for me to be in a gallery. And I don't particularly like it, first off because of the price structure. There's a certain price that I think it's worth. But generally, when you put it into a gallery, you've got-- they're going to--

Hayes: Double it.

Hill: They're going to double it.

Hayes: Yeah.

Hill: And so nobody's going to buy it. And if I bring it down 50%, I feel like I'm giving my work away. So it's a double edged sword, as far as I'm concerned. And I am in a gallery right now, and I've been there for a while. But nothing's happened. But then again, the market's not that--

Hayes: Right, right.

Hill: You know, it's a market thing too.

Hayes: Well I think that many people who would want to buy sculpture and see it in a gallery might ask, "Could I speak to the sculpturist to do something for me?" In other words, sculpture can be a private connection.

Hill: Oh yeah. Right.

Hayes: A painting can be a decorative element, but if you're talking about a six or eight or ten or twelve foot item, I don't know how many people just would buy, that's what I'm saying, buy that size off the shelf, so to speak. It must be a tough...

Hill: Well, I don't know. I don't know how you would define that. I mean, first of all, I think it's a personal thing. Like I was saying, the fellow in South Carolina, he saw the fish at Oceanic.

Hayes: Oh, good.

Hill: That's what inspired him to call me and say, "We'd like something like that."

Hayes: Right.

Hill: But it was different. I mean the pieces I did for him were even bigger. And we installed that down there, and he just loved it.

Hayes: That's great.

Hill: It worked out just fantastic.

Hayes: That's good. Have you found people that want outdoor pieces for their own, say, yard as well? Is that kind of a demand out there, for people who want a piece in an outside setting? Because your work would lend itself to that, I think. Wouldn't it be good outside?

Hill: It would be good outside. And most of my work is geared for outdoors, and I treat it as such. I mean, as far as patinas and sealing, and that type of thing for protection. But most of the work I do is either by commission or hopefully for public use. So a lot of the work I'm doing right now is speculative in the fact that this is the type of work I would like people to see Paul Hill be doing. So when they see something, they'll know it's what I've done. Because I'm trying to get that kind of work out there. So even though it hasn't been commissioned, I'm still going to do something. I'm in a show in May at the WHQR Gallery.

Hayes: Oh, good.

Hill: And this goat back here is part of it.

Hayes: I see. Oh good, yeah, I can get that.

Hill: It's just the framework right now. But there's going to be-- it's a site specific, kind of an installation piece.

Hayes: At this WHQR?

Hill: At WHQR.

Hayes: Which is a local gallery run by the radio station.

Hill: Actually, it's run by Montage Art and Gallery.

Hayes: Oh really?

Hill: They're a little south of here, down by Waterford. And I believe they own that gallery, which I have three pieces down at that gallery right now.

Hayes: Okay, oh good.

Hill: But this show is going to be-- it's kind of an opening. They're redoing the gallery, and it's going to be a new opening. So I'm doing this installation site piece for this opening.

Hayes: Okay, you want to just hang on a second, let's take just a break. How's that sound?

Hill: Oh, okay.

Hayes: Back from that brief break. If we could jog a little bit into some of the technique, I'd love to give the listener or reader a sense of kind of the creative process that goes into metal sculpture. Because there aren't many, right? I mean, this is not a common, common thing to have? People who do this?

Hill: Well, there are a lot of sculptors in the country. A lot of sculptors everywhere. And there's a fair amount of sculptors here in Wilmington. Acme Art downtown, there's some people down there. And they're spread around Wilmington.

Hayes: But metal brings out a whole interesting set of challenges. Do you use all different kinds of metals?

Hill: I do. Primarily started with stainless steel, just for protection type steel. It's so strong. But I've since moved into all different metals. Primarily cold steel, which is just every day common steel that they make with cars, that type of thing. It's a stainless steel. And I've worked with bronze and copper.

Hayes: Now, the animal that you have behind you here that you're working on, is this just the frame or is that going to be the finished look?

Hill: Well...

Hayes: Because I don't know what that is. Is that steel rod or is that steel--

Hill: That's quarter inch steel rod.

Hayes: Rod. Okay. So a steel rod is another tool.

Hill: Right. And I'm using steel rod in this sense, more in the way of the giraffe. These works come about mostly from the way I sketch. This is how I draw. And there's a sketch of this goat on the wall. It's a two-dimensional sketch. And I give myself an outline of its body and on a two-dimensional plain, it's a silhouette, but from there I stand it up and start to expand it into three-dimensional form by wrapping wires around for its stomach. And I say, "Okay, where do the legs come?" And so it begins to take a three-dimensional form so I that I can see what I want to do with the covering, and where I want to put cover, if any.

Hayes: One choice would be not to put any cover, right?

Hill: One choice would be not to put any cover on. I mean it's--

Hayes: Infinite variety.

Hill: --it's infinite. For this particular installation, it won't be all covered.

Hayes: Okay. But some are.

Hill: But some will be, yes.

Hayes: So you have to build the structure. It's almost your figure drawing.

Hill: It is.

Hayes: Have you got any people, people?

Hill: I have.

Hayes: Because that would seem to me like that would have been a natural for you.

Hill: Oh yeah.

Hayes: But yours, as you mentioned the word "abstract," you're not a naturalist sculptor. You're attempting to--

Hill: I'm not a realist.

Hayes: A realist. Yeah, you're not trying to say this is exactly what a sheep or a goat looks like, no.

Hill: No. I'm sort of an expressionist representational artist. I want to leave a lot to the imagination, not because I cannot create something that's exactly-- but this is just my statement. This is just how I see it. And I like to leave a lot of the imagination up to the people. It's like, why'd you do that? Well, why did I do that? You tell me.

Hayes: You tell me.

Hill: You know, it doesn't all have to be black and white. It's just how I do things, and it's just the way they get done.

Hayes: You talked about starting with just cutters and metal. But as I look around the studio, and we'll at the end of this take a few shots, I see a big, big tank of gas. Is that an acetylene torch?

Hill: Yeah. It's acetylene.

Hayes: And that's used in what? For welding of parts together? Is that what you do with that?

Hill: Well, there's a number of things you can do with oxyacetylene. You can weld with it, you can braise with it.

Hayes: Braise, what is it?

Hill: Braising is sort of like soldering, where you heat the metals and apply a filler rod to the heat to put two pieces together.

Hayes: Put it together.

Hill: You can use it for cutting.

Hayes: Oh, you can?

Hill: Use it for cutting. I use it primarily for heating a rod to bend. Especially thicker pieces, I can manipulate the metal that way. It becomes very soft.

Hayes: And I see, what's that kind of interesting box back there? A jegs [ph?], whatever?

Hill: Oh, the piece on top of it is a plasma cutter, which is one of the first things I bought. That's actually not the very first one I bought. But a plasma cutter has made life so much easier, because it cuts the metal for you. They call it the fourth-- what is it? Oh, I can't even think of it now. But it's a mixture of air and electricity that forms a hot beam that actually--

Hayes: Cuts the metal.

Hill: --cuts steel.

Hayes: Wow.

Hill: And that'll cut, that particular one will cut, it'll cut five-eighths inch steel if I need to, so that's kind of nice.

Hayes: If you were using copper, does that have a different tool, or is that some of the same tools?

Hill: I can cut copper. Well, I've cut copper. I cut just about anything I can, so I don't have to--

Hayes: Use the arm, and--

Hill: Yeah.

Hayes: And I see a vise here to hold things, so you have to have that.

Hill: Mm-hm.

Hayes: And what is-- this is another....

Hill: Well, I've got a couple welders.

Hayes: That's a welder, okay.

Hill: This is a TIG welder.

Hayes: And what about that grey thing with the--

Hill: The buffer?

Hayes: Oh, buffer, okay.

Hill: Yeah.

Hayes: What would you use a buffer for?

Hill: Well, a lot of the pieces I do in stainless, I polish. Those rods were polished. And a lot of my work I do, some of the pieces are polished, some aren't. So it just depends on what I'm doing.

Hayes: And I'm looking here at an anvil, right?

Hill: Anvil, yeah.

Hayes: And what's that pattern? I mean, you're pounding up stuff?

Hill: Yeah. Hammering steel. Mostly hammering steel, hot steel, when you're forming. If you try and form a piece that you just can't put in a vice and crank over. It's too big, you can heat pieces up and bend it and form it on that.

Hayes: You know, I've done other interviews, and it's like I'm talking to a blacksmith. (laughs)

Hill: It's a mixture.

Hayes: And what about this sanding type thing?

Hill: I got the sander for-- actually, I bought the sander for the particular that it's demonstrating right now, which is, it's a real fine sanding belt. And when you TIG weld, this is the TIG torch right here, it's got a tungsten tip to it, and it has a sharpened point. Well, if you're a really good tungsten welder, it really very rarely gets dull. But me, I'm not, you know, perfect here. So if you're touching, and you touch it and it sticks, it'll ball up. So you've got to take it out. And I've used this to sharpen the point. So that's really--

Hayes: You used the term, "certain kind of weld." I mean is that--

Hill: TIG welding. It's like tungsten inert gas.

Hayes: Oh, okay, okay.

Hill: So that's the...

Hayes: In the welding world, they would know what you were talking about.

Hill: Yeah. It's nice to use, because you can get really clean, neat little welds.

Hayes: Now, let's talk about the term weld. Well wait, before we come back to that, what's this large, large contraption with a handle on it?

Hill: Oh, just a drill press.

Hayes: A drill press. So that's to drill holes, punch holes?

Hill: Mainly to drill holes.

Hayes: Drill holes.

Hill: Yeah. That's all I use it for. Actually, I bought it for a project for Detroit Diesel, out of Michigan. They do, they have billfish tournaments on the East Coast, West Coast. This year, they have it in the Caribbean. They called me when I was in Nashville, actually. I had done some bears for a fellow in Nashville, these bronze bears.

Hayes: Oh, really?

Hill: And I was coming back from that installation. And I got a phone call from these people in Detroit. They asked me to do a traveling trophy kind of a Stanley Cup kind of thing that travels with winning teams.

Hayes: Wow. That's nice.

Hill: And Detroit Diesel, one branch of Detroit Diesel is MTU. And that branch strictly makes all the diesel engines for offshore boating for the tankers that travel to recover oil and bring it back to the United States. All large ocean going vessels, they make these huge diesel engines in Germany. And at that time, they had called me on my way back home and asked me if I would be interested in doing a trophy that would travel with the billfish tournaments in the United States. And I said, "Yes."

Hayes: (laughs) So did they have an idea what they wanted?

Hill: No. Not really. They asked me to design it, but based it around--

Hayes: Billfish.

Hill: Well, base it around billfish, but primarily around the diesel engines.

Hayes: Really?

Hill: So what I designed for them was a billfish, but very ________________.

Hayes: So a billfish would be something like a marlin?

Hill: Billfish is a category of marlin, sailfish.

Hayes: Okay. They have a--

Hill: --long--

Hayes: --spike.

Hill: --spike nose.

Hayes: All right, got it.

Hill: But the trophy was based around the diesel engine. So it was a billfish, you kind of traditionally see that comes sweeping out of the water. Well, it was held in place as a base by one of the large pistons out of the diesel engine.

Hayes: Oh, I love that.

Hill: And instead of scales or what other kind of, you could use for the body of the fish, I've used stainless steel plates. And they all have these huge hex-headed rivet heads on the plates. So it was like, if you needed to get into your engine, you know, you've got to take these plates out. So it looked like kind of a diesel engine assembly. And I left the center of the fish open, and it had transmission gears in it that would spin.

Hayes: That's great.

Hill: And it turned out just fantastic. I was extremely pleased with it.

Hayes: Now, was it so heavy you could lift it, or not lift it?

Hill: Well, I had to build a crate and ship it to Detroit, but it made it fine.

Hayes: Now did they put a plaque so that the names could rotate?

Hill: Mm-hm. Well, I did a base for it also out of stainless, and the base would rotate. And the winner of that tournament each year gets a plaque, and they put it on this plate. And so it'll be attached to the base, and every year the winning team gets that.

Hayes: To hang around with for a year. Oh, that is great. So were they happy? Were they very happy?

Hill: Oh, yeah. They were thrilled with it. And I was too. I mean, it was really a very nice piece. I was very happy with that.

Hayes: Well, they got something that seems so much different than the traditional one, will have a sculpture of the fish.

Hill: Right.

Hayes: I mean, that's okay, but I'm just saying--

Hill: Well, yeah, this was a-- and they really liked the idea. They just thought that was very good. But that ________________.

Hayes: You needed the drill bit.

Hill: I needed that.

Hayes: (laughs)

Hill: I'm not going to do that by hand.

Hayes: Right, that's right.

Hill: Not through stainless steel plate. I don't think so. That was too much.

Hayes: I'm just looking at some clamps over here. Do you end up having to clamp things together quite a bit?

Hill: Well, I need so many hands, I've only got two. So these are extra hands to keep things in position while I'm welding. You generally have to put-- you try and hold pieces in the same place when you weld.

Hayes: Now, let's just talk a little bit about weld.

Hill: Okay.

Hayes: Because not everybody knows what it is, we act like that is. Tell us what welding is. I mean, it's a joining?

Hill: Welding is away of joining metals by melding the metal and the metal that comes out of the welding torch. Those two become one. The molecules break down to the point of liquid, join, and then cool, and they become one piece.

Hayes: Do you do two pieces together? That's what you're trying to do?

Hill: Mm-hm.

Hayes: Or three or whatever?

Hill: Well, however many you want to join. It doesn't have to be two. Like this piece, I mean, there's multiple attachments. So it's like--

Hayes: And do welds have different styles, or is a weld usually a weld?

Hill: Well, there's many different styles. I mean, there's stick welding, where you actually put a stick in a clamp and you'll touch the metal, it starts an arc, and the rod burns and melts into the...

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: And then there's MIG welding, which this machine is, which is a gun, and it has a spool of wire inside the machine. And when you pull the trigger on the gun, the wire feeds through the gun, and it melts the same way the stick does, but it's just a very thin wire.

Hayes: Interesting.

Hill: And I primarily use that one.

Hayes: Okay. Now, do you have to have safety equipment on and glasses, and the whole thing, right?

Hill: Well, and you need a helmet.

Hayes: Helmet, okay.

Hill: Helmet because of the arc, it's so bright.

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: And gloves.

Hayes: Okay.

Hill: Many shirts, because you burn through your shirts.

Hayes: Well, I'm just fascinated by the elements that go into a metal sculpture. I mean, first you have to be a drawer or conceptualizer. You don't just start with from your head. You say you sketch out and work on those kinds of things.

Hill: Get an idea.

Hayes: And then cutters and punches and welders.

Hill: Most people don't really realize I think what goes into a piece to make it look like it does. There's so many steps, there's so much work involved in it. Because when you see the final piece, generally you go, "Oh that's pretty nice, that looks like it didn't take much time."

Hayes: Oh, geez.

Hill: Gosh.

Hayes: Well, how long would you work on a piece? I mean, say this one that you said you did three large pieces for a house in Charleston, I mean, what kind of hours do you end up having?

Hill: I can't even tell you hours, because I generally break it down into how many months. So that was about a five month project. The fish were extremely complex. And they had moving parts. And it was a pretty large commission. And this client, I've never had anybody tell me this, because he wanted these fish that resembles the pieces at Oceanic. Well, I designed some fish for him and did some sketches and made these fish quite unique. And they had gears in them, and all kinds of things. Things moved. And he liked the drawings. And so I began the fish work. And there was something I wanted to do, and I thought, "Well, maybe I should check with him." You know, I wanted him to be happy. So I sent an email. And he wrote me an email back. And I've never had anybody write me back something like this, especially a client that I'm going to work for. And I said to him, I said, "Well, you know, I'm going a little off base here with this, but what do you think?" And he wrote back and he said, "Paul, you do what you need to do." He says, "We hired you because of what you do," he says, "whatever you do will be fine."

Hayes: Wow. (laughs)

Hill: Whoa.

Hayes: Could have died and gone to Heaven with a client like that. (laughs)

Hill: That was so sweet. So needless to say, I spent a little extra time on that piece.

Hayes: So he trusted you as an artist?

Hill: Oh, absolutely.

Hayes: But that isn't always the case, right?

Hill: No, not always the case. People, you know, they'll want certain things. But this was just fantastic.

Hayes: That's great.

Hill: And it actually made the piece, in my opinion, better. Took a lot of pressure off. Sort of. You know, because I really wanted to make it look good, and so--

Hayes: That's right. He held you up to a new standard.

Hill: But it did really turn out really nice. And it was a mixture of different media, so it was fine. But that was a nice statement.

Hayes: I see kind of a piston with a large orange device here next to me. What is that interesting...

Hill: It was a crane that I had bought, just a hydraulic jack kind of thing, crane, that I bought to put in my truck. I thought it would help me to lift things in and out. I'm looking for any means to mechanically help me lift things as opposed to do everything by hand.

Hayes: Yeah, let's talk about that. Because I think people forget the work you do, many times is just heavy, right? Literally.

Hill: Oh, very heavy.

Hayes: Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

Hill: Mm-hm.

Hayes: And you have to get it someplace, deliver it someplace, and many times install it, right?

Hill: Right.

Hayes: So that's another kind of interesting set of--

Hill: Oh, that's whole--

Hayes: --skills.

Hill: That's another ________________.

Hayes: Now are there some sculptors who subcontract that out and have people do that for them? I mean, because that is kind of an unusual set of--

Hill: Well, especially these larger pieces that you see. And some of these sculptors who have really made a name for themselves and are quite famous that do these large pieces with I-beams and large, large work. A lot of fabrication shops will do a lot of the work, because it is so large. A lot of people just don't have the space to do that kind of thing. Now, a lot of artists do, a lot of sculptors do have their own spaces. But sometimes fabrication shops will fabricate the work, they'll oversee it.

Hayes: It's still their work.

Hill: Yeah, well it's still their work.

Hayes: But they need a team, sometimes.

Hill: Right. And they need the machinery and the--

Hayes: And particularly as it gets bigger.

Hill: Exactly.

Hayes: You're saying that as it really gets big, no individual can just put that together.

Hill: It'd be very difficult.

Hayes: And you had ones where you just worried that you could even get it where it needed to go?

Hill: Well no, not really. Because the piece that I was talking about that you saw when you came in, the piece with the I-beams and the big base and the concrete pieces, that's pretty heavy. And a crane company is going to be coming in, lifting that up, putting it onto a--

Hayes: Oh, God.

Hill: It should be pretty interesting. Especially the installation will be great. They're putting a big, kind of a big pad out.

Hayes: So you would have to get help sometimes too.

Hill: Oh yeah, absolutely. There's no way I could lift that at all.

Hayes: Interesting.

Hill: I took it out there in a series of pieces and welded it. But now, since they're going to be lifting the piece almost as a whole, I have to do some additional welding to it.

Hayes: Oh, to even sturdy it?

Hill: Yeah, even to make it more secure. Now that it'll be in the public, I want to make sure that everything is solid, and-- (coughs) Excuse me.

Hayes: Well, we just have a few minutes left. And I wanted to end with the question what's next? I mean, what's on the board? Where do you see some of your sculpture going? Kind of speculative yourself, what do you think?

Hill: Well, I'm hoping for more commission work. And actually, it's always my-- the current piece I am working on is always hopefully the one in my head that's going to say, "Wow, okay, let me give this guy a call, maybe he can do something." And especially this piece I'm working on with the goats. It's actually a political statement. So I'm trying to really make a statement with this installation piece. And that, I guess you could say is what I'm trying to do is-- artists make statements. Artists I think are historians in some sense, that they depict what is going on in the world at the time, or what is happening in the current events. And they say it in different ways than just maybe the media might do. So that's kind of what I'm doing. I'm seeing things happening in the world that I'm not happy about. And I have a lot of rage inside about a lot of these things. And so I'm just going to start saying that with my metal work. And not in a negative way, but I just want people to start to think a little bit about what's going on, and say, "Wow, better stop and think about this a little bit, see if we can help it out." So that's what I really would like to do. And I'm going to see if I can pursue that.

Hayes: Great. Thank you very much.

Hill: You're welcome.

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