Dil Hildebrand : Et ainsi de suite... @ Centre Space (Toronto)

21 November - 21 December 2013

There have been several surprising style-  and subject changes in Dil Hildebrand’s  practice since 2006,when he quit his job as a theatre set painter, and went back to school for an MFA. In light of these surprising breaks, continuities stand out.  First of all, Hildebrand remains a traditional studio painter, using brushes and paint on canvas and linen as artists before him have done for more than 400 years. Bringing the world into his studio by making liberal use of computer programs and imagery, he continues to use, but also undercut his superb rendering skills, testing painting’s ability to represent reality. And, finally, Hildebrand’s wildly divergent series of paintings are all linked by a contemporary engagement with specific historical eras and features of Western painting.[1]

In the current exhibition, And so on, and so forth..., Hildebrand experiments with diagrammatic configurations of abstract forms. The work has evolved from the previous Drawing Board series; a   gridded, dark green background reminiscent of an ordinary cutting board is still present in some of the paintings, but takes on different colours in others. The large paintings are looser, less architectural and wider open to interpretation than some of the earlier ones. It is as if the artist is looking for a prototype, not just for a building, but for something larger, a new way of living perhaps, for life as it is experienced through a certain self, from a certain space, a certain time. 

This is a large undertaking indeed, one that needs the working and re-working of a potentially endless series of models.  Hildebrand   begins with graphite drawings on Japanese rice paper. He traces the constructions from one sheet to another.  On the second sheet, he changes, elaborates and erases the drawings.  He then glues this sheet on top of the first, allowing the viewer to see the evolving drawing process. Although the sketches are completely unrelated to words, the works on paper suggest texts written in Chinese or Japanese characters.  They make a case for drawing as a way of writing, both viable, embodied ways to connect with and get to know the world.  

The motifs re-appear in And so on..., a six-part painting of long, frieze-like canvases.  Here,and in a second one, And so forth..., they stand on a strip of raw linen, filling evermore shelves in an open-ended collection.  The diagrams recall Constructivism, the revolutionary Russian art movement of the 1920’s.  More specifically, however, Hildebrand’s configurations resemble Vladimir Tatlin’s pre-Constructivist Counter Reliefs of 1914-15. Tatlin sought to bridge the gap between art, life and politics. In his designs for a new world, he rejected painting’s representational conceits and insisted on presenting only the integral quality of materials, such as wood, metal, putty, cardboard and glass, bringing a physical concreteness to art in groundbreaking experiments.[2]

Hildebrand follows Tatlin’s experimentation in creating new forms, but he brings representation back by painting his constructions. In the large works, his trompe l’oeil rendering skills serve to make wood, paper, rubber and cloth look so real that they appear to form assemblages rather than paintings.  In addition, as if to make sure that the viewer knows there is more to these experiments than the craft of painting, or perhaps as homage to Tatlin, the odd real piece of jute can be found amidst the paint.

In And so on... and in And so forth..., Hildebrand carries on with an experiment that Tatlin would have found difficult to do within his creed of presenting the truth of materials. He carefully copies the first assemblage, and uses this copy as the base for another one, erasing some components while adding others.  Materializing the temporal aspect of painting, his lively rows of constructions show an evolution of forms:  one thing leads to another, in painting as in life.  The possibility of a universal prototype for a new way of life, which was still faithfully anticipated by the Constructivists, is shown to be always compromised by contingency.  The models are subjective creations that arise from the experiences, the art-historical knowledge, emotions and skills which belong to a particular artist who works within the constraints of traditional studio painting. 

It is exactly through these constraints, however, that Hildebrand’s paintings become metaphors for the subjective ways that inhibit our objective understanding of the world.  Art historian Svetlana Alpers’ description of “the studio itself as an instrument of art” is an apt way to characterize Hildebrand’s studio practice. [3]  The constraints of the studio, with its exclusions of much of the sensuous world, and its reliance on the solitary artist as conduit from world to painting, form an analogy to the constrained ways of our slanted, time-bound understanding of the world.

Using the studio as an instrument of art Hildebrand exploits the unique capacities of painting and drawing to create try-outs for possible ways of being in the world. “The studio experience”, writes Alpers, “is the addressing of motifs. They register something that the painter deals with or, perhaps better, plays with in paint.”[4] What Hildebrand registers in his motifs, is a way of experiencing the world that is indebted to art making of the past yet reflects and furthers contemporary ideas of subjectivity. 


There is no brooding painter to be seen in Hildebrand’s work, no self portrait of a solitary genius creating master pieces in the melancholic isolation of the studio. What we find in the drawings, the large paintings and in And so on, and so forth, are stand-ins that differ from one another, though they share a template of forms. The inventive shapes with their additions and extensions seem designed to reach out and connect, yet each assemblage retains individuality. They signify that in the continual process of reciprocal influences that shapes our relationship with the world, the first person singular does not disappear, but forms a unique node within a collective of others.[5]

Hildebrand picks up shards of art history and brings them into his studio. Here he brackets theory and sets to work, constructing and reconstructing the pieces through the hands-on practice of painting. The breaks and continuities in his work show a faith in painting as a mode of constant experimentation, a uniquely visual and visceral way of investigating the world that goes beyond, or perhaps underneath, verbal discourse and scientific exploration. 

-Petra Halkes, October 2013

Petra Halkes is a painter, art writer and curator. She lives in Ottawa.

[1] Hildebrand's series can be roughly categorized as: 
1. Landscape/theatre paintings. See: Dil Hildebrand: Long Drop, the Paintings of Dil Hildebrand. With essays by: Richard Rhodes and Louise Déry; interview with Christine Redfern. (Victoria/Montreal: Anteism Publ. 2009)
2. Studio paintings. See my review of Peepshow at Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain in Montreal, September 9 to October 16, 2010: "Dil Hildebrand" in BorderCrossings Vol. 30 # 1 issue 17, March 2011, pp 77-78.
3. Cutting-board paintings, from which the latest work shown in this exhibition has evolved.  
See: Mary Reid: "Dil Hildebrand: Going Back to the Drawing Board" catalogue essay accompanying the exhibition Back to the Drawing Board, YYZ Artists Outlet, Sept. 10 – Dec. 10 2011 http://www.yyzartistsoutlet.org
[2] See: Simon Baier: "Professional Painting, Tatlin's Counter-Reliefs", in Tatlin/Baier,Simon et al./Museum Tingueley: Tatlin, New Art for a New World. (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag 2012)
[3] Svetlana Alpers: "The View from the Studio" in The Vexations of Art, Velázquez and Others. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press 2005)pp 9 – 47 (p.14). Reprinted in Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, eds.: The Studio Reader, On the Space of the Artist. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2010). 
[4] Ibid, p.24
[5] I am indebted here to John Roberts' idea of "The Post-Cartesian Artist", Ch. 4 in: John Roberts: The Intangibilities of Form, Skill and Deskilling in Art After the Ready-made. (London/New York: Verso 2007)


The artist would like to acknowledge the support of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.

The Gallery thanks SODEC for its support.



Dil Hildebrand was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and obtained his MFA at Concordia University, Montreal in 2008. In 2006 he was the national winner of the RBC Painting Competition. Hildebrand has participated in international exhibitions including the 4th Beijing International Art Biennale in Beijing, China and the National Gallery of Canada Biennial in 2012. His work has been collected by major museums throughout Canada, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, and the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Bank of the Canada Council and in several corporate collections including the RBC Royal Bank, the Bank of Montreal, TD Canada Trust, Bennett Jones LLP, Ernst and Young Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP. He lives and works in Montreal.