Mark Hilton

Reality Check

Mark Hilton's most ambitious and personal work to date,
dontworry, reconsiders realism as a lucid strategy in a
messy and fragmented world.

by Dr Chris McAuliffe NOV 2013

Mark Hilton’s dontworry spells out the first half of a cheerily fatalistic catch phrase across nine relief panels. But Bobby McFerrin’s inane recipe for peace of mind isn’t completed; there’s no reason to “be happy”. Scattered across each of the nine letters are scenes of violence, self-harm, paranoia, racism, addiction and molestation, many of them played out in the suburban Melbourne landscape of the artist’s youth. Within the letters, swarming figures congeal into vignettes from an urban drama. Hilton’s figures don’t pool into a comédie humaine or flow towards some denouement; they hover in high relief against the backdrop of a disintegrated, disinterested world. Their misadventures aren’t ordered as a chronological sequence; the opening letter “D” responds to Hilton’s travels in the US (after the 9/11 attacks) and Asia (at the time of the SARS alert) but the next rewinds to Hilton’s youth. Subsequent letters continue this oscillation between a specific past and more general evocations of addiction, corporate greed or mental illness.

It’s the most ambitious and personal work Hilton has made. The stories are specific to his own experience and remain anchored in the trauma of their own moments. Hilton doesn’t offer his wiry, hollow-cheeked, strung-out suburbanites any path to redemption. The usual structures of the ‘misery memoir’ genre (start out innocent, hit rock bottom, grow into an inspirational role model) aren’t on offer. dontworry doesn’t or can’t scan like a well-told tale. Life is the kind of mess that slogans can’t fix.

Hilton’s Lilliputian horde of realistically modelled and cast figures have colonised an over-determined territory. For some years now, realism in Australian sculpture has meant hyperrealism, often on an elephantine scale. It’s all about the amplification of the human, whether in scale (big babies), detail (pore-by-pore topographies) or emotional impact (a walk-through of life’s journey, from the womb to the tomb). Strangely, it’s an... Subscribe to read this article in full

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Art Gallery of New South WalesNGA Metro Govett Brewster NGVBendigo Art Gallery