The Los Angeles-based artist EJ Hill is in resting mode after the exhaustion of intensive durational art performances and Covid-19, but that does not mean he stopped making work. Recently he took up painting, learning as he went along, and a series of six canvases is part of his new exhibition, Wherever we will root (until 22 April), at Oxy Arts, part of Occidental College. They are expressionistic paintings of flowers and, in a recent Instagram post—he is declining interviews—he wrote: “No more wringing myself dry. Just flowers, and clouds, and puppies, and ribbons, and pink, and other sissy boy shit.”
Every year, Occidental’s studio art department selects an artist to hold a class in the autumn before mounting an exhibition of their work at the Oxy Arts gallery the following spring. “The course was about unlearning the ideologies that have been so entrenched,” says Meldia Yesayan, the gallery’s director, “and foregrounding joy, which is a departure from his previous work.”
The six paintings are exuberant and floral, and accompanied by two readymade pieces. One is a white piano, installed in the middle of a large gallery, where Hill will occasionally sit down to learn how to play with a teacher; the other is a wash basin mounted to the wall and filled with fresh flowers that will be regularly replenished.
Hill was one of the stars of the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. biennial in 2018, with his performance and installation work Excellentia, Mollitia, Victoria (Latin for “excellence, resilience, victory”). He came in six days a week during the 11-week run of the exhibition, standing atop a sports podium in the first-place position, set on a field of fake grass and surrounded by photographs of schools he had attended. Hill was also included in the recent Prospect triennial in New Orleans and will participate in the upcoming Whitney Biennial.