Feb. 23 2011 01:23 PM

The woman behind the vintage gal on horseback galloping across the front page of this week's CityBeat

Daphne Hill
At first glance, Daphne Hill's most recent mixed-media collages look like pretty references to lovely ladies of bygone eras. Vintage calendars, old Playboy pages and silhouette cutouts of what look like figures from the Renaissance all serve as centerpieces, but playfully and delicately layered atop and amid the images and resin finishes are designs and patterns that look like living organisms. That's the first indication that there might be more than meets the eye.

Another hint lies in the name of Hill's series, “Venereal Narratives,” and the provocative titles of individual works.

“Most of my pieces have names of people and then the disease they're dealing with,” Hill says.

The image on the cover this week is an exception to Hill's titling rule, but she says the piece still deals with disease.

“That one's just called ‘Perfect Seating,' but the organisms that are around it are actually a yeast infection.”

Hill is blonde, petite and upbeat—maybe not the type of artist you'd expect to be painting STDs. But her interest in chromosomes and other microscopic images of organisms came on during her pregnancies. Hill's sister has Down syndrome, and that worried her about the health of her children.

“It was just kind of a way for me to work through all of my feelings,” Hill explains. “Gratitude for ultimately having two healthy, normal children and kind of the guilt—there's this survivor guilt.”

Her chromosomes eventually morphed into mold spores after she found out her kids had a breathing condition that mimics asthma. Again, her paintings became a way for her to deal with the stress.

“My way of putting my anxieties at rest was just researching it, painting it, trying to make it as beautiful and approachable as possible and trying to have a different relationship with those sorts of things,” Hill says.

In 2008, her work again started to change into shapes of gonorrhea and syphilis cells when her oldest son asked for the sex talk. Hill's worries resurfaced, and she started researching venereal diseases and discovered some intriguing microscopic images.

“That's a painting,” says Hill, pointing to a big, beautiful black and gold painting hanging on the wall of her North Park studio. “Those huge shapes in the background, those are actually Chlamydia. Really, I want it to be something you might not notice at first; it's just part of the landscape.”

She steps back and points at the silhouettes in the canvas.

“And then it becomes more about the story,” she continues. “Like, does he have Chlamydia and she doesn't know, or did he get it from her—what's the story?”

Daphne Hill's work is currently on view at a solo show at Planet Rooth Design Haus (3334 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest). The show closes with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26. daphnehill.com


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