New Jersey artist Adam Hillman creates highly detailed pieces with contemporary zeal

Adam Hillman's unique work has recently received a local Purchase Award. Erika Hillman Courtesy Adam Hillman
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New Jersey is known for many things, from Bruce Springsteen to the hellish turnpike to the now-infamous Jersey Shore. However, many people may not consider the Garden State a hub for up-and-coming visual artists. As much as New York art snobs may scoff in disdain, the local arts scene in Mercer County is budding with fresh talent.

One such artist, Adam Hillman — a young man quite unassuming in demeanor, yet filled with thoughtful artistic insight — is a sophomore at Mercer County Community College. His paintings are immediately recognizable for their incredible detail, making them almost dizzying to the viewer. With textured gradients and fractal-like designs, his pieces are visually striking and unique in their complexity. Over spring break, Hillman sat down with the Daily to discuss his artistic background and the development of his style.

Hillman’s foray into art began early in his adolescence, when his interest in comics pushed him to make art of his own.

“I started making my own comics, which is the first art I ever made, when I was eight. And they were … so embarrassing! When I look at them now, I cringe!” Hillman laughed.

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For a couple of years after this initial phase of cartooning, he lost interest and didn’t spend much time on art.

“Then when I was thirteen, I went to the Met and I saw a piece by Jackson Pollock, this huge painting. And it sparked something inside my brain and I was like, ‘I want to do this, but in my way. I want to take this and make it my own,’” he said. “So I went home and I started drawing again … I was interested enough that my parents paid for classes at the Arts Council in Princeton.”

There, Hillman began to explore different styles of art, thanks in part to his teacher, who didn’t put an emphasis on traditional techniques.

“I had a great teacher, probably because she didn’t teach me that much, not technically. In the way to think about art, she taught me to try new things and to not be too terrified about them being technically perfect,” Hillman said.

Using this mentality, he dedicated his efforts to creating a unique style rather than imitating his artistic influences, though they did have a lasting impact on his work.

“At first, Picasso and Pollock, as I said, were major inspirations … There’s this abstract expressionist … working in the ’50s, named Franz Kline who made these huge black and white abstractions and that’s what really inspired me to start working in black and white … Even though his work wasn’t detailed like mine, the way he divided up the space was really inspiring,” Hillman said.

Over the course of the year after his classes at the Arts Council ended, Hillman created around ten black and white detailed drawings using Sharpie markers as his primary tool. Looking at these works, it’s almost unbelievable that someone could fill in the tiny details with such precision, let alone have the patience to create multiple pieces of the same nature.

“At the time, it was mostly because I didn’t have much going on … during my high school years, since I was homeschooled,” Hillman said. “And I think a lot of times, when people make art, they do something and then want to do something else right away — like move in different directions. I’ve always been the type to do something and then keep doing it and coming back to it to incorporate different things I’ve looked at over time.”

Rather paradoxically, since Hillman is now a full-time art student, he no longer has much time to create multitudes of detailed works. As a result, his more recent pieces are of a smaller magnitude. Nevertheless, his experiences in college have visibly influenced his artwork, giving it more dimensionality, perspective and color.

“When I first started making drawings and paintings, they were really flat. They didn’t have any space, no one-point perspective or anything. But we had a class in 2D Design about space and in the newest painting I’m working on, I actually incorporated [this],” he explained.

Aside from this exploration of new artistic concepts and media, such as oil paint, the social aspect of college life has also expanded Hillman’s view of art.

“I’ve made a couple of friends and talking with them has really opened my mind up to new perspectives about art,” he said. “And talking with teachers, too, has got me thinking about how I can keep [my work] contemporary.”

Thanks to his persistence and ever-evolving style, Hillman has recently met success in the local arts scene, even winning a Mercer County Artist Purchase Award in February. Like many young artists, Hillman dreams of moving to New York City and working and exhibiting for a gallery. However, he now realizes that local successes are not worth any less than major ones.

“It’s funny because before I went to college I thought that staying local was like admitting defeat … Now I’m thinking that it’s a greater possibility than I gave it credit for … But ideally, I’d still like to be working in New York!” he concluded.

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