Chasing freedom

Rosanna Turner

Fifty white stars are etched into a blue background. Thirteen stripes of red and white run horizontally around it. The American flag is a powerful symbol with many meanings. But for artist Sybil Hill, there is only one word that comes to mind to describe this national icon.

“Freedom,” Hill said. “Being an artist has given me the freedom to do what I love and still give back.”

Hill’s father was a painter, and her twin sister is also a successful artist. Although she grew up painting, Hill didn’t start selling and showing her work professionally until eight years ago. She sold two paintings in her first month and never looked back. When a friend gave her a box filled with more than 100 American flags, Hill incorporated them into her new pieces. Images of horses are also prevalent. The artist has always felt a special connection to the animals; she views horses as a metaphor for light, God and hopeful energy.

“The horse seems to be symbolic of this American spirit,” Hill said.

Hill wants her work to have a healing effect. With such an emotionally charged image as the flag, the artist sought to highlight rather than hide from people’s strong reactions to it.

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“Through these layers — putting in the white paint and spackling — (I was trying to) lift things out of the bad, out of the darkness,” Hill said.

Adding the unexpected to an image we recognize instantly is a common theme in Hill’s work. The artist is always experimenting with new materials, some that most art teachers would caution against.

“I always come up with new things, new formulas,” Hill said. “I mix oil and water when I’m not supposed to.”

While some artists use the American flag to present a political stance, Hill is making a positive statement instead. For the painter, the American flag is not just a patriotic symbol, but it also reflects her own personal memories. Hill still holds the image of one particular flying banner in her mind from growing up in rural Texas.

“We would drive past this huge open space and there was this huge flag,” Hill said. “It was a wave, almost like an ocean. There’s a beauty to it … it feels good, and that’s what I’m trying to create.”

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