Robin Hill prefers the artistic process to inspiration.
“I’m a believer that ideas don’t come because you have an epiphany and you’re on fire and full of passion and motivation to work,” she said. “I actually think ideas, especially good ideas, are very hard won. And sometimes they come about because you sweep the floor for two hours, or you go for a walk, or you make a lot of mistakes and throw them away.”
In her lecture at 7 p.m. Friday in the Hultquist Center, Hill will discuss the creative process, her work and where her ideas come from.
She’ll show examples of her eclectic art, which includes sculpture, drawing and cyanotypes. Her sculptures often incorporate collected, repurposed objects: A recent work, “Cairn,” displayed ocean-smoothed bricks Hill collected from the shores of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where she and her husband spend summers.
Hill’s husband, Tom Bills, first went to Cape Breton as an artist’s assistant.
The first time Hill visited, she fell in love with the place, which was full of artists and “people who were really striving to be in unspoiled wilderness,” she said. But Hill wondered what would happen when Bills, whose own artistic career was taking off, no longer worked as an artist’s assistant — how would they get to come back to Cape Breton?
The two eventually found their own place and now spend every summer up north. In fact, Hill loves spending summers in Cape Breton with her family so much she’s turned down several prior invitations to visit Chautauqua Institution. This year, as Hill is on sabbatical, was finally the time to do it.
“I thought, if I can’t say yes now, with such extended time in Cape Breton, then I’m probably never going to go, and I’m probably never going to get invited again,” Hill said.
After two weeks at Chautauqua teaching a seminar for sculpture students, Hill will be able to spend some more time up north before returning to the University of California, Davis, where she and Bills work as art professors.
“We consider ourselves New Yorkers who live in California — and Cape Breton,” Hill said.
Growing up, Hill’s family moved frequently due to her father’s work as a professor.
“I was a university brat,” she joked.
When Hill started applying to art schools for college, neither of her parents knew what a B.F.A. was, but she’d decided since she was 16 that she was an artist.
Rather than calling herself a sculptor or another more specific term, “artist” is the label Hill has stuck with.
“My work changes so much according to the circumstances I’m working in, whether it’s a place or a set of materials, or time constraint,” she said. “I kind of give myself permission to not be grounded in any one particular genre.”
At the same time, Hill looks for inspiration in limitation, letting available materials guide her.
“It’s an important distinction – I don’t get an idea and then go look for materials to support the idea,” she said. “I find materials just through living my life. I’m a very curious person and I notice a lot of things, and then I employ the find into some kind of articulated idea.”
A big myth about art, she said, is that all the work happens in the studio.
“When in fact, maybe living your life and having other kinds experiences is equally important,” she said. “Not just to be a more balanced person, but just to let art and life be a little more pervious and inform each other.”