Until a year ago, the artist David Hill did not know how to send an email, and the internet was something of a mystery to him. Fast forward 12 months and he is now successfully operating both a website and Facebook page, that has seen his art bought by collectors, galleries, and retailers across Britain, Ireland, and the USA.
David has been living in Ireland for the past 28 years, but is originally from Scotland. He was born in Paisley in the west central lowlands, but grew up farther north in Dundee. "I always say I'm from Dundee," David tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview. "My family left Paisley when I was two, so I've no memories of it. Dundee was where I grew up." His memories of Dundee are of a happy family life in what was then, a "sad, depressed town".
"From an early age I always imagined I was going to be an artist," he says. "I come from a family of artists, there was art on both sides, illustration on one, music on the other, and my own artistic abilities were encouraged. My older brother and sister went to art college and I did a degree in the history of art, but Dundee itself, back in the 1960s was a very depressed town, at the poorer end of Scotland. You would see these torn down tenaments and houses, places where people had lived once, now laid bare, there would be a gable end with the remnants of someone's kitchen and bathroom, and it just felt sad, but I go back every few years, and the city has improved a lot in recent times, and there has been a lot of redevelopment."
David was determined to make a living in art, the question, as it is for all artists, was 'How?' Finding himself in Galway in the late 1980s, he came into contact with the city's long-running Artspace Studios, and his time there proved to be a valuable apprenticeship. "I was working with people who had been through the art school system," he says, "who had leaned about organising, hanging, and arranging exhibitions, the nuts and bolts of the arts world".
From there he found work as an illustrator, particularly within the heritage industry. He worked in this field for a decade, with his most prestigious commission being for the Newgrange site. However as the Celtic Tiger ran aground in the late noughties and funding for heritage was slashed, suddenly, there was increasingly little work to go around. For a time, David turned his attention to creating murals for businesses, but work that was weather dependent, extremely physically demanding, and far from regular, did not add up to a long term prospect. He also took up a job in a factory, but says, "I realised after a short while that I was suffering for not being able to do my own artwork, and I was determined to go back and make a living from it".
It was time for a re-think, in both his approach to the business of art, and to his artwork, itself - what it was, and what it had to say, and from this came the artworks that have made this ambition a reality.
The artworks David displays on www.angelsonyourdoorstep.com depict beatific beings, mostly women, within, almost organically part of, the natural world. They are rendered in delicate, sinuous, lines, and enhanced through strong, yet never garish, colours, with elements of collage and abstraction. The works themselves draw on the British-Irish Celtic and Anglo-Saxon heritage, as well as the influence of Russian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall, and Austrian Art Nouveau artist Gustav Klimt.
"People often mention Klimt, because I use gold leaf in the artworks," he says. "With line and drawing, you often know where the work will go, but the use of collage, coloured tissue, and how I will use colours from the paints in a work, always keeps it fresh for me, and I surprise myself as to where the work might go."
Further inspiration comes from David's appreciation of children's book illustrations, old postcards, and advertising. "The combinations of colour and images in those can be quite striking," he says. "I'm a bit of a sponge for visual stimulus." The work's calm presence and quasi-mystical atmosphere also comes from David's interest in spirituality and the fact he has been practicing meditation for more than 20 years.
"I want them to be more than nice pictures, it's always a bonus when people say they have found something in them that reflects their life or provides meaning," he says. He is also intrigued by how people view the figures in his paintings. "Many of them are women, but some are also men. There is a lot of androgyny. Sometime in a work people will talk about a 'she' even though I think of the figure as 'he', but I don't make that a big issue, as I like people to form their own responses to the work."
'I couldn't send an email'
Creating awareness about the works, and a platform through which they could be sold, was now much easier because of the internet. "In the pre-internet era, you could have an exhibition in a gallery, and if you were lucky, 10, 20 people might come in during a day. On the web, you can have hundreds or thhousands of visitors," David says. There was only one problem, his knowledge and abilities on the internet were very limited.
"Go back a year," he says, "and I couldn't send an email, I was out of the loop. so I did a basic computing course, and that helped explain a lot of things, but I also had a lot of help from family and friends to get a hang of skills. Setting up the website and the Facebook page opened up a world that was foreign to me before."
Today David's work has been sold to collectors in the US and Britain, and from people buying presents, while in Ireland he enjoys regular sales to gift shops, design centres, and galleries, and indeed, wholesale purchases of his work are becoming increasingly common - something he is keen to expand on into Britain and the US over the coming year, as well as making his artworks available to licensing companies.
"I'm selling work abroad and some of my keenest customers and followers are from the USA," he says. "I love being able to communicate with people. If I put up an artwork on Facebook, almost instantly there will be comments and feedback, and people have been very generous with their compliments, and enthusiasm. It's a real shot in the arm."
David's artwork can be viewed on www.angelsonyourdoorstep.com and on Facebook, or by arrangement at his studio, through 087 - 2100054.