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The Benefit
January 29, 2015

Benefit v.15 Artist Interview: Abstract Space with Leo Hylan

About the Author
Erica Minutella

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At Benefit v.15, Win Back Your Space with our annual silent art auction and fundraiser on Saturday, February 7 at Crane Arts. All the elements for transforming your space – personal, office, or otherwise – are yours for the bidding. This week, we’re featuring artists who have transformed the space of their lives and of the world around them by tackling issues relevant to personal renewal and social identity.
Leo Hylan manipulates photography and video into escapist abstraction. The world is blurred and blended into bright release. Read more about his influences and experience, as well as the piece he’ll have up for auction, in an exclusive interview below.
Could you start out by telling me about your arts background?
My name’s Leo Hylan. I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. I’m an arts educator, and I have an MFA in Digital Art from Goucher College. I’m a new media artist so I work in a bunch of different media, primarily digital, studio, photography, etc.
Do you have any upcoming exhibits or projects?
I have a couple upcoming video installations in the Baltimore area and I’m expecting to get some permanent video installations in Annapolis. We will find out in the summer when exactly those are gonna be. And I’m probably going to have a couple films released in multiple film festivals.
Your work often confronts issues of self and society. At what point did you transition into tackling heftier subjects?
I think it was really early, when I was doing art in college, that I was trying to reflect on the things I was thinking. In college it was really sophomoric, not well-developed. And I guess later on as I got older, you realize there’s a larger message that can be told. And if you try to be a little more general you can speak a larger story. I think it was early in my art career that I started doing that. Now it’s a lot more refined, more adult and not over the top.
Was a part of that learning by doing, and you got a better understanding by continually practicing that concept?
That’s part of it, but also showing a lot. Once you’ve done a few shows and you’ve had your work out in the public, that helps a lot. Because you realize a lot of artists will say – I make art for myself – and that’s awesome that you do that, but then why are you showing it? When you start showing in public, that’s really what influences you to be more universal in the message you’re sending. Because you realize you’re trying to say something to millions of people. If I’m not then why am I putting it up there or putting it on screen? So I think the experience of showing really influenced that more than doing more work.
As far as your abstract pieces go, you also describe them as an escape. Do you think it’s important for people to use art and other means of cultural enjoyment to escape from the every day?
Is it an escape from every day life in terms of working? No, it’s not. There’s a lot of work being put into the individual pieces, but it’s an escape from doing the work that is making a personal or sociological statement. Especially if you reflect on society or politics or yourself. These things can be really quite depressing to be honest. And I create every day. I have to make art every day, sort of like exercise. If you stop your exercise or your diet plan, even though it can be challenging to stay on those plans, you can end up not producing. Every time that I would go through a period that I wasn’t producing a lot, I realized I didn’t have a creative place that was escapist. So it’s important for me to have that place so I can continue to make work. As far as for other people to escape, I’m sure it’s really important. The more we get connected, via phone conversation or email or Facebook or Twitter, the more I think it’s important for people to have some sort of privacy, and I think a lot of the abstract work is a way for me to have my own space.
Do you think that also works from the perspective of collectors of art?
I hope so. I collect a lot of work. I’m constantly trading art work or buying art work or collecting. So I have a couple rooms in my house dedicated to other people’s work and those are meditative spaces for me. Often when we think about art collecting in 2015, I hope that it’s gotten away from the monetary value of art. I know that’s important to a lot of collectors, but I think that with the current art market we see a lot less focus on collecting as an investor.
Is there a specific style of work that you collect?
I was just talking about that with my wife. She was looking at this work, and she said why did you buy that, you could have done that? I said well I didn’t do that and I think that’s why I like it. I like a lot of things that are similar to my art style or aesthetic, which is odd because one would say why are you collecting things that you would do? And I think it’s an appreciation of the fact that I try to make the things I like, so when I see something that somebody else has made that looks similar to my work, I like it and it’s almost easier to buy it than to make it.
There’s another level of connection there that I see too, you’re both thinking along similar lines. So it’s a way of identifying with them. Now can you tell me a little about the piece you are donating for the Benefit?
The piece I’m donating is a multi-media piece. It’s a photograph and a piece of printmaking that have been overlayed in Photoshop. It’s originally a black and white photograph developed on black and white film, and a piece of printmaking manipulated and edited in Photoshop. I’m not a Philadelphia native. I’ve done a lot of work there, but I currently live in Annapolis. I work a lot in Philadelphia, I have a studio up there, and I do more work in Philadelphia than I do down here. It’s just there’s a job in education, I teach in a magnet school in Annapolis, so I’m constantly commuting. And the piece that I donated, both the photograph and the print, were not only done in Philadelphia, but they were done using Philadelphia as a subject matter. So I thought it would be an appropriate contribution to Philadephia. I was thinking, it’s a Benefit so you want the work to sell, so what’s a piece that’s going to sell? Because we want you guys to make money.
As far as Philadelphia inspiring your subject matter, is there a particular element of this city that you find does inspire your creativity?
I love the area. I love the landscape of the city. It’s two things – I find that the city itself is beautiful. I’m from the mid-Atlantic, and so it still has the features of a mid-Atlantic city with the features of a bigger city. But also the same thing goes with the art network. It’s a big enough city to where there are a lot of things going on, InLiquid being one of them, but it’s small enough – it’s not New York where you get swallowed into this hole. Down here you have DC and Baltimore and together they make the city that Philadephia is, and that’s why I’m so appreciative of it. DC has all the museums and all the high end stuff, and Baltimore has all the local, DIY things going on. Philly has both together which is nice.
You appreciate that your piece for the Benefit – it’s important it be marketable. Why is it important for artists and for the general public to support organizations like InLiquid?
InLiquid – there’s a couple things. When I first moved back from Chicago and I was searching for something that was not all fine arts, InLiquid was one of the first that I noticed doing video art at International House. They were consistently doing video shows, and I started really being interested for that reason. Because I couldn’t find it anywhere else on the east coast, that specific type of art. That’s what got me started, and then I applied, etc. And it’s working for two different reasons. One as an artist it’s really important because it’s allowed me to further develop a network in a city that I don’t live in. But also to meet and work with all kinds of people in the city. You’re a hub for creative minds, but also business networks, which is really important. So there’s the pragmatic part of art, which InLiquid does a really good job of meeting. And I’ve never had creativity stifled, or been told to do a specific thing because it’s what sells. So it’s really done a good job of maintaining the creative part of art without fitting it into a box. And then it’s the exposure as an artist, but also the type of art you’re putting out there. Last summer I was doing some video installations at Commerce Square and the Kimmel Center, and these are totally different venues than conventional fine arts galleries, so it’s really versatile. Coming from the artist’s perspective it’s extremely important to support InLiquid because it helps artists network without fitting us into a box. And then from a non-artist, art lover perspective it’s presenting such a versatile amount of art to the public. I can’t tell you how important that is, especially to a community and an arts community. It has to keep refreshing and consistently know what quality is, but also take chances. InLiquid is fantastic at doing that.
Bid on Leo Hylan’s work in advance on the auction site, or join us at Benefit v.15 on Saturday, February 7.
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