Can art really change the way we see the world? I’m counting on it. Lately, I find myself turning off the news and searching for richer, meaningful content. I’m not suggesting art is an elixir for solving humanity’s problems, but I do know wildly popular platforms like Instagram and Pinterest satisfy a hunger for art and are correlated to our collective desire to be happy.
WomanScape is founded on this underlying belief that art builds conversation and informs the mind. So what better time than February to share its transformative powers. In Italy, February ushers in a month-long Carnival of dancing and parades, and New Orleans kicks up its heels for Mardi Gras. China’s New Year celebrations peak in February before floating out to sea in a moonlit serenade of white lanterns, while Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild honors the best in film.
But what if we bypass the hoopla of golden Oscars and huge festivals, and consider the gender lens in art creation? In its first month-long series, WomanScape honors “Woman as Creator” (think Mother Earth here), and spotlights four uber-talented artists whose dynamic work is turning heads.
We start with a big bang as our first featured artist takes us deep into the universe, its constellation of stars, and the rich, poetry-filled, pages of history. The art of Turkish poet and painter Arica Hilton is as grand in scale as her mythical journey. Arica invites us into her illuminating quest for larger truths about our existence and understanding of self in what can only be called a fantastical tour de force!
Picture standing outside the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History and looking into the starry night sky. The majestic scale of the museum is accentuated by the magical array of gigantic bright images – text, ancient symbols, numerology, and animal images – that stream across its classical Greek columns and pediments. A clear, strong voice rings out. Arica Hilton is perched and Venus-like on a speaking podium, reciting Canto 1 of Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” poem.
This performance piece is surreal. It imaginatively blends poems from 14th century Italy with a modern light show by acclaimed artist, Marco Nereo Rotelli. The stylized images and reincarnated words mesmerize audiences gathered out front and listening to the curated series. Poems and songs, all from the Cantos of INFERNO, are read in Greek, French, Turkish, Portuguese, Arabic, Hebrew, Italian and Spanish like a harmonized Tower of Babel.
The “DIVINA NATURA” performance is just one of many spectacular shows Arica has curated as past president of the Poetry Center of Chicago in 2013. Her innovative talent for melding past and present is echoed in the weaving strokes of her paint brush and her creative gift for poetry. Both present a luminescent tapestry of storied history as effortless as cool waters trickling down a verdant hill. In them, we escape to another world.
Her paintings illustrate the subtleties of her gift as we slide through soft, easy movements focused on elemental forces like water, earth, wind, and sky images. But don’t be deceived by their quiet ability to disarm and penetrate. Much like a beautiful Venus-fly-trap, they force us to look for meaning in these same life forces.
This theme, a communion between nature and self, is central to all of Arica’s work and underscored in her “One Day Like Rain” masterpiece. It ambitiously captures the tranquility and balance of our human existence, and its effect reminds me of Monet’s “Water Lilies” series where I am invited into its light and freedom.
Not all of Arica’s work has the same easy effect, as seen in her “Infinity Has Bounds Only to Infinity”. The journey is more intrepid and mysterious, subtly softened by the emerging underbelly of light. The didactic textural sweeps and unbridled energy are introspective and transcend the physicality of her work. I literally catch myself trying to see beyond the light, as I reach for the stars and hope the energy will leap into my heart.
This palpable exuberance is akin to the defibrillator jolt of caffeine I get from my morning coffee – a cup I could swim in and a feeling I wish I could maintain throughout the day! But the difference is my coffee moves me to function and Arica’s art welcomes me into the larger universe. I am connected to something bigger than myself and weigh my purpose-filled place within it.
No wonder actress Nora Dunn used Arica’s “Universe, Life Unlimited” painting in her performance piece at Chicago’s Wit Theater in 2013. This famed actress and Saturday Night Live comedian insisted Arica’s painting was a character in her play because it provoked universal questions about who we are, where we come from and how we exist in harmony in the natural world.
This existential process flows from Arica’s Turkish roots, a country where East meets West as Turkey straddles the Bosphorus Strait (a boundary line between Europe and Asia). The luminescent effect in Arica’s painting mirrors this duality, given her love of the European Romanticists and her exploration of Eastern philosophies centered on mindfulness and meaning.
Coveted by collectors around the world who applaud her expressive language and music, Arica’s art is tranquil, calm and light. As a gallery owner in Chicago, she promotes a host of other artists who cultivate curiosity and self-expression as she continues on her explorative journey. (You can see more at: www.hiltonasmus.com)
As we look to the future and art for inspiration, Arica’s ambitious “American Icon” painting hits a final high note. It’s a retrospective of American history using carefully selected images from Albert Bierstadt’s “Oregon Trail”.
While Bierstadt’s original piece depicts America’s frontier beginnings, Arica reimagines it in our modern world by infusing it with our legacy of great moments, movements, and monuments. Timeline events like Facebook and the omnipresence of Google in the painting demonstrate our new age frontier spirit – a modern extension of the American Dream.
Thanks to Arica, this continued pursuit of freedoms and safeties is a reminder of the steadfast strength of the human spirit, especially during turbulent times. Art will always be an individual experience but our pursuit of happiness is universally significant, collective and true.