Mark Hilltout

Date:09 March, 2016

Bio

Mark is a restless soul. He was born in 1948 to a middle-class family, ultimately graduating from Birmingham Art College. He has lived in Johannesburg, Hong Kong, Toronto, New York, Brussels and Madagascar where he learned to sew metal. He has driver through Africa, twice. In between he has run a hotel in Seychelles.

He has run advertising agencies on four continents. When back in Cape Town, he designed and funded two photographic books, both on football in Africa. He has hand-drawn a comprehensive map and guidebook to Woodstock.

Mark has been an artist all his life, except he was always called art director. Those are the facts. But they are confusing.

There is no single turning point that led Mark to do what he does now. He has always been drawn to the discarded, the imperfect.

He is fascinated by car dumps. He has long been a collector of enamel commercial signs. Above all, he loves corrugated iron, for all its ancient blemishes and weather-beaten scars.

He tolerates computers, but he prefers the happy accidents that can only occur by hand. He believes that true beauty comes from the close attention to craft, not the obsession with ideas.

He now lives in Woodstock, Cape Town, and swears blind he will die there.

Artist Statement

Mark has an honours diploma in Graphic Design from Birmingham College of Art and Design. He spent most of his working life as head of Art for Ogilvy working in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Hong Kong, New York and Europe.

A love of Africa has been in his blood ever since he first travelled overland through the continent as a young man. He lives and works out of his loft in Woodstock, where he brings mere ideas to life. Mark’s current challenge is to bring to life the textural beauty of unwanted, rusted and painted corrugated iron.

“I am fascinated by imperfection, in all facets of Art and Design. This has drawn me to the beauty of old, painted and rusted corrugated iron.”

To unearth the delicate patinas and textures that have formed naturally over time. To take these metal sheets away from their cluttered environments, examine them and understand their fragile elegance. Then work and re-form them, bring their inherent exquisiteness to life and to our attention.

To expose the depth within a block of colour and texture allowing it to evolve and deviate in front of our eyes. To get lost in the abstractness, and find ourselves again.

“My current work has been most influenced by the paintings of William Turner (1775-1851), mark Rothko (1903-1970) and Nicolas De Stael (1914-1955).”

About the medium

By Mark Hilltout

Corrugated iron was first patented in 1892 by Henry Robinson Palmer, a British architect and engineer to the London Dock Company. The oldest sheets in existence are therefore just under 200 years old.

From “Corrugated Iron: Building on the Frontier” by Adam Mornement and Simon Holloway/2007, Frances Lincoln Ltd.

To many, rusted corrugated iron is a cast-away material to be used only in the absence of alternatives. To my mind it is endlessly complex and gloriously imperfect; something that time alone can create.

Corrugated iron is a material at the mercy of the elements. Bleached by the sun, torn by wind, worn by rain, scorched by fire and repainted by man, each sheet bears its unique history proudly. The layers of paint, patina and rust are finally unified into an authentic and exhilarating surface – a palimpsest in metal.

I search for and collect discarded sheets from a metal scrapyard in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. These sheets can be anything up to a hundred years old, perhaps even older. Out of 100 sheets that I find, only 10 or even less are suitable to be used in the studio. I look for interesting changes in colour, pattern, texture, grain and patina, although I won’t know what I have found until the sheets have been flattened and cleaned.

At the studio the sheets are sorted by the hue into a ‘library of iron’. Every sheet, no matter its age or the colour it has been painted, is unified in two hues. The first, the iron itself – a neutral dull silvery-grey colour that occasionally reveals itself where the layers of paint have flaked or chipped off. The second is gnawing rust, which comes in a wide range of browns, from warm orange to near black umber – sunset to midnight.

This means that when two different coloured sheets of different ages and sources are stitched together, they are invariably compatible. Just like old friends.

It would be impossible to try and recreate the multitude of random nicks, chips, scrapes, blemishes, bruises and tears that texture every sheet. It is precisely this unpredictability that keeps the viewer’s eye engaged and the artist’s eye enthralled. We are drawn to erratic shapes and patterns, if only to make sense of them.

The more I study corrugated iron, the more I realise that the metal itself should dictate the composition of each artwork – that the artist must not get in the way of the medium. So when people look at my work, I hope they will appreciate the beauty of the material that I love so much and perhaps understand why I use it as an artistic medium.