“Wherever we will to root” blooms at Oxy Arts

live flowers
Live flowers are an integral part of August Grahn and EJ Hill’s piece "Vase with flowers" at Oxy Arts in Los Angeles, CA. Thursday, February 17, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

Six paintings of vivid flowers, created using playful brushstrokes and occasional neon decorations, as well as two installations, are on display at Oxy Arts Feb. 17–April 22. The exhibition, titled “Wherever we will to root,” is the culmination of EJ Hill’s term as Occidental’s 2021 Wanlass Artist in Residence.

good evening ej hill
EJ Hill’s painting “Good Evening” at Oxy Arts in Los Angeles, CA. Thursday, February 17, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

Hill received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree from Columbia College Chicago in 2011, and went on to earn a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) from UCLA. He currently lives and works in LA and is known for his durational performances and his artistic exploration of social identities, according to the Oxy Arts websiteDurational performance, also known as endurance art, is a kind of performance art that lasts for a long time.

Hill ran “victory laps” around LA schools he once attended and stood on a podium in UCLA’s Hammer Museum for 78 days in the summer of 2018. According to the Hammer Museum, the laps represent Hill re-inserting himself to the schools, which are places he never felt accepted but were important to his development, while standing on the podium was an act of “incredible resilience.”

According to the Oxy Arts website, the Wanlass Artist in Residence Program is made possible by the support of the Kathryn Caine Wanlass Charitable Foundation. Director of Oxy Arts Meldia Yesayan said that beginning in 2017, the Wanlass artists’ yearlong stay at the college involved teaching a studio arts course in the fall, followed by an exhibition at Oxy Arts in the spring. Yesayan said the Wanlass artists are jointly selected by her and the art & art history faculty, based on the artists’ approach and exposure in the contemporary arts field. In the Fall 2021 semester, Hill taught a class called “Art Outside the Bounds” about neutral and authoritative knowledge. Since 2012, Occidental hosted eight Wanlass artists before Hill.

In “Wherever we will to root,” the blooming flowers invite the audience to join in resting, finding balance and beauty, according to Oxy Arts. Yesayan said Hill started to think about the theme and the artistic mediums for this exhibition in Fall 2021, and he produced the paintings over the past six months — many were painted in the Oxy Arts gallery over the winter break.

white rose hymnal
EJ Hill’s painting “White Rose Hymnal” at his show at Oxy Arts in Los Angeles, CA. Thursday, February 17, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

Brandon Lehr, economics professor at Occidental, said he first discovered Hill when visiting the Hammer Museum, where he saw Hill’s durational performance. Ian Colon, a community member and friend of Lehr’s, said he is excited to see this exhibition take place at Occidental.

“It’s wonderful to see artists questioning why it is they do what they do, what it is and who it’s for,” Colon said.

Eleanor Dunn (junior), who is taking a painting class this semester, said she gets a sense of playfulness and energy of joy when viewing Hill’s work.

“You can see in the brush strokes how much fun he’s having with it,” Dunn said. “It’s inspiring to me to just have more fun with my painting, [to] do it for the enjoyment.”

Nelson Dresser (junior) said he learned about the exhibition after his printmaking professor, Kenturah Davis, mentioned it to the class.

grand piano oxy arts
Visitors play the piano positioned at the center of the main gallery for EJ Hill’s show “Wherever we will to root” at Oxy Arts in Los Angeles, CA. Thursday, February 17, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

“Flowers are always pretty,” Dresser said. “I’m trying to use my class knowledge to see it a little differently than I otherwise [would].”

This exhibition kicks off a series of events that will feature Hill for the remainder of his residency.

Included in the events is a March 3 interview with Paul Holdengräber, the former director of New York Public Library’s public programming. The closing event April 22 will feature Hill, along with musician Jeffrey Michael Austin, for a performance under the band name Daisy Days.

Yesayan said many students praise the “Art Outside the Bounds” course Hill taught in Fall 2021. According to Yesayan, Hill is currently preparing for two more exhibitions.

“He is getting ready for his first solo museum exhibition this coming fall at MASS MoCA,” Yesayan said via email. “For the exhibition he is planning to create a massive sculptural installation that incorporates a stage for performances as well as a functional roller coaster. He has also been selected as one of the artists in this year’s Whitney Biennial [which] opens on April 6th in New York City.”