About My Work


I have used the term ‘Group Iconography’® to describe these paintings, chiefly because I couldn’t come up with anything more pompous and pretentious sounding. Nonetheless, the term is fitting since each of these works is a pastiche that assembles and juxtaposes multiple iconic portraits. These readily recognizable images are drawn from a wide array of familiar visual media –magazine covers, coins, sculpture, photographs, comic books and the like. While each work seeks to faithfully imitate the style, medium and vocabulary of the original images, I haven’t made a fetish out of it because, frankly, that would be way too much effort.

Each collection of portraits coalesces around a unifying – and generally humorous – theme. The first-person voice in the titles keeps the focus on the idiosyncratic selection and juxtaposition of images while hinting at - but not explicitly revealing - the unifying theme, leaving each viewer free to explore the interplay of images and discover, for himself or herself, the unifying principle. In a sense, each painting is a sort of puzzle to be solved with portrait pieces.

In making the title integral to the work and uniting the individual portraits with a verbal rather than visual motif, I sought to fuse words and images and blur the boundary between the literary and the figurative just because I can.

Of course, you must consider the possibility that I made-up all this thoughtful-sounding stuff in a spasm of narcissistic self-indulgence and, in actuality, the paintings are just jumbles of familiar faces. 


In this gallery, each painting is a collection  - a menagerie or bestiary, if you will - of the eye-catching and exotic animals that I have been lucky enough to encounter in my occasional travels.  Each painting is intended as a sort of memento or keepsake those journeys. Hence, my depictions of those creatures and their naturalistic settings are sometimes jumbled and exaggerated like the memories on which they are based are based.


As he and I talked, my friend's 10 year old twin daughters intently studied my new paintings.  After a  while, one turned to the other and said, "It's just a bunch of random stuff!" Aha!  For awhile, I had been asking myself "why still lives?' I just didn't get it. Landscapes capture the beauty or fury of nature.  I get that. A portrait conveys a likeness and reveals the character of its subject.  People are always the most interesting subjects.  But a still life, especially a staged one, what's the point of that?  Then, it occurred to me. I enjoy using paint to capture the appearance of everyday objects, especially if the subject is a challenge -  reflective, liquid, translucent, metallic, etc..  Why?  Because I can and I enjoy showing-off that I can.  Its just that simple.  These paintings eschew all the still life conventions  - composition, perspective, modeling, even gravity, retaining only the minimum ingredient: interesting stuff to paint.   


The inspiration for this series was celebrated actor Sir Laurance Olivier's answer to the question,”Why did you choose acting as a career?”  Olivier’s reply: “Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me.”  Painting is a rare talent  and, like Olivier, part of my motivation is simply to show off what I can do, how I can take pigmaent and a two-dimensionsl surface and create an illusion of something from the 3D universe. This is particularly satisfying if the subject is challenging or tricky – like moving water, a reflective or textured surface, etc.  So, look what I can do!


My “ Stories,” are so-called because each combines and, in some cases, re-imagines narrative elements from one or several fables, folk tales, myths, legends and histories.  Earlier works are loosely inspired by pre and early -renaissance treatments of biblical or mythical accounts, which often depicted elements with disparate scales, casually, chronology, geography, and even narratives as though all transpired in the same time and space within the four corners of the painting. Lately, I have chosen a simpler narrative approach, attempting to capture just one moment or element from the source narrative and allowing that one facet of the story to evoke the whole narrative.

Embla Emerges depicts the first woman of Norse mythology who was said to have emerged from a Rohan tree.  Scandinavians are the ethnic group with the highest percentage of redheads.  Here, the Rohan's red berries dissolve into Embla's red hair.

The Changeling refers to an ancient fairytale concerning fairies that switch human infants.  The older tale was incorporated by Shakespeare into his Midsummer Night's Dream.  King Oberon and Queen Tatiana are show relaxing in crown of roses worn by their changeling. 

At Least We All Agree on Flapjacks is a cockeyed look at two divergent fables of the American frontier and its natural resources –the legend of Paul Bunyan the lumberjack who was fictitiously responsible for denuding the Great Plains of all its timber and the contrasting, mostly authentic tale of Johnny Appleseed, who traversed the American West planting apple trees for cider 

City Streets are a Maze to a Country Boy is my take on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur depicting, in the foreground, Theseus in mortal combat with the Minotaur (in my re- telling, just a bull) in the center of a labyrinthine Minoan cityscape and, in the background, the vengeful God, Poseidon, blowing Theseus’ black-sailed trireme towards the backwater town of Athens and his ill-fated father.

Ride Boldly Ride takes its title from an Edgar Allen Poe poem entitled El Dorado.  In this painting, I depict  a weary conquistador unknowingly passing-by the fabled city that is his quest.

“When Will We Three Meet Again?”  are words spoken by three witches in the introduction to Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth.   Here, the witches are three quasi-historical women who rose to power in a man’s world only to be branded witches or the like  - Joan of Arc, Pope Joan and the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, also thought to be the biblical Queen of Sheba.

Neptune and Ariel is my quirky reimagining of the Mermaid yarn inside a giant aquarium.

Grendel’s Den is my speculation that the ancient text of Beowulf is a hyperbolic corruption of a still more ancient oral saga of Vikings defeating the last surviving Neanderthals in the remote wilds of Scandinavia.

Pandora’s Bus deliberately conflates competing views of how humankind first encountered sin - Natural Selection, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, Pandora, etc.

The Founding of Rome is a deliberate conflation of elements drawn from several Roman foundation stories, Virgil’s Aeneid, the epic of the fugitive Trojan warrior, the legend of Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf that nursed them, the storied Rape of the Sabines, the guiding hand of the patron-Goddess Juno, and my own more down-to-earth view that it was feats of engineering – concrete, arches, aqueducts and paved roads that made Rome the capitol of a vast empire.

Scheherazade 2012  is my vision of how the raconteur of 1001 Arabian Nights might appear if she were spinning her tales in modern Iran: in chador to a mullah rather than a Shah, but with polygamy and the threat of beheading still literally and figuratively in the background.

This Train is Bound for Glory captures the triumph and tragedy of two giants of railroad lore preserved in folk songs (and, hence, a folk singer occupies the center:) In the foreground John Henry besting a steam hammer, on the left, then collapsing from a burst heart, on the right, and, in the background, the record-setting Casey Jones’ locomotive, on the left, and its deadly crash on the right.

Eve & Lilith in the Garden depicts the newly self-conscious Eve (having partaken of the fruit – pomegranate is a more likely choice than the traditional apple) with Adam’s first wife, according to Jewish tradition, the fiery, independent and shameless Lilith, posed before the menorah-shaped Tree of the Fruit of Knowledge.

Esther and the King Play Chess is a reimagining of the Megillah, the Old Testament Book of Esther, as the ancient Persian game of chess played between Queen Esther and the Persian King Ahasveros, (a figure customarily assumed to be the great Emperor Xerxes.) with pieces representing themselves as king and queen, the evil Haman as a bishop, Mordechai as a knight and Jewish courtiers and the palace guards known as “the immortals” as pawns.  Note that the Queen, protected by the Knight, has the King in checkmate.

Pecos Bill Tames the Twister  One of the feats of legendary cowboy, Pecos Bill, was the lassoing and riding of a cyclone.  Typically this feat is depicted with Bill mounted astride the cyclone as if riding a bucking bronco.  In this painting I imagine that Bill’s wild ride was inside the twister.
Oedipus Outwits the Sphinx (Again) The sphinx as a sentinel, guarding the entry to the ancient Greek city of Thebes, shown in its mountainous setting, then, as the modern town remains to this day. In the original story, the Sphinx required Oedipus to solve a riddle in order to gain admittance to Thebes.  This time, Oedipus smirks as he shows the angry Sphinx that he has solved her puzzle (the rubik's cube.)  Oedipus is perhaps better known for having unknowingly sleeping with his mother and killing his father – note the tattoo.

Song of the South   The African American folktales popularized in Uncle Remus are now known to be adaptations of trickster fables imported from West Africa along with the slaves.  Of course, the animal characters had to be changed to suit the new environment.  Hence, in this painting, the old African slave remembers lions, hyenas and monkeys; but his young audience imagines Br’er Bear, Br’er Fox and Br’er Rabbit.

Lots of Fun at Finnegan's Wake   This painting is based on a traditional Irish folk tune, "Finnegan's Wake," that tells the tale of Tim Finnegan, a hod carrier by trade who, having imbibed too much, fell from a ladder to his death.  At Tim's wake, a fight broke out.  In the course of the brawl, whiskey was spilt on the bier, miraculously reviving Tim.  James Joyce used Finnegan's Wake as a metaphor for the cosmic cycle of life, death, and resurrection to introduce his stream-of-consciousness novel by the same name. 

The Last Business Lunch  parodiesThe Last Supper by retaining DaVinci's composition and characters but depicting Jesus and his Apostles as busness people in the modern dress. 

The Unstoppable March of Science or Once a God, Pluto isn't even a planet anymore  takes the recent demotion of the Planet Pluto as the starting point in a meditation on what befalls the gods when the heavens are full of skyscrapers and astronauts.

ROXANNE  Roxanne was Bactrian princess and storied beauty when a chance encounter led to her marriage to Alexander the Great.  Alexander and his mount, Bucephalus, are depicted in the background.

BIRTH OF THE BLUES  It is said that Robert Johnson, widely acknowledged as the first “blues” musician, sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads to play guitar so well.

THE SELKIE Scottish, Irish and Faroese  folktales include many stories about Selkies, beings who morph from seal to human by shedding their skin.  

EMBLA EMERGES Embla Emerges depicts the first woman of Norse mythology who was said to have emerged from a Rohan tree.  Scandinavians are the ethnic group with the highest percentage of redheads.  Here, the Rohan's red berries dissolve into Embla's red hair.

THE CHANGELING  The Changeling refers to an ancient fairytale concerning fairies that switch human infants.  The older tale was incorporated by Shakespeare into his Midsummer Night's Dream.  King Oberon and Queen Tatiana are shown relaxing in crown of roses worn by their changeling. 

OPHELIA  Ophelia is a character from Shakespeare, the would-be lover of Prince Hamlet, who, after having been spurned by Hamlet and blaming herself for his madness, falls from a willow tree and drowns in the brook below. Or did she take her own life?

FINN MCCOOL HURLS THE ISLE OF MAN One of the Irish folk hero’s greatest achievements was hurling a huge hunk of Ireland at a giant on the opposite, English shore.  It falls short and becomes the Isle of Man. 

NARCISSUS OBSERVED  This painting depicts the doomed love of the forest nymph Echo for Narcissus (for whom the flower is named.)  Narcissus loves only his own reflection in a pool of water.

ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE  Orpheus, most perfect musician, ventures into the underworld to rescue his love, Eurydice.  Hades is so moved when Orpheus plays his lyre that he release Eurydice on condition that Orpheus not look upon Eurydice until they have both reached the surface; but, not hearing Eurydice’s footsteps, Orpheus glances backwards and Eurydice is instantly whisked back to Hades.

FEE FI FO FUM  Jack and the beanstalk was my daughter’s favorite folktale.  Here, Jack escapes the giant’s grasp with the goose that laid the golden egg under his arm.

FLIGHT OF THE FAIRIES  Fairies are everywhere in the lore of many cultures.  While reflecting on that, an image came to me and I painted it.

EXCALIBUR  In some versions of Arthurian legend, the Lady of the Lake, a sorceress,  bestows the sword Excalibur upon King Arthur and, later, when Arthur, nearing death bids Sir Belivere to throw the sword into the lake, it is retrieved by her hand.

SACAGAWEA : MADONNA & CHILD  It is easy to forget that while escorting Lewis, Clark and the Corps of Discovery across the unexplored vastness of North America, Sacagawea was also nursing a newborn infant.

QUEEN OF THE NILE The first and only female Egyptian Pharaoh as she appeared in life merges into how she was memorialized in death.  


My attempt to reclaim - through imitation - the artistic simplicity and minimalism that appeared spontaneously at the very dawn of humanity.  In later work, my stylistic tendencies - toward complexity, for example - reasserted themselves.  However, I continued to draw inspiration from elements discovered in the work of the earliest artists - the illusion of motion, for example, created by repeated over-painting or pentimento.


A collection of paintings, which, in varying ways, reflect my interest in conveying the subject's mood or personality through means other than facial expression.  Hence, in each case, the subjects' faces are 'blank.'


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 Richard B. HillBoston, MA617-489-9656