Thomas Hillier Q+A

Following on from my visit to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition I had the chance to speak to the architect Thomas Hillier – the man behind the highly commended piece (and my personal highlight) ‘The Migration of Mel & Judith’. Here is the resulting Q&A plus some lovely pics!

The Migration of Mel & Judith, Thomas Hillier

The Migration of Mel & Judith, Thomas Hillier

So, Thomas, what inspired ‘The Migration of Mel & Judith’?
The Lampshade is the culmination piece of a project about the lives of fictional, retired Croydon couple Mel & Judith. Within the lampshade is a narrative piece of architecture (their home), which encapsulates their habitual activities. They began their retirement by traveling around Europe in a homemade bread caravan (another project which will be on the website soon) but they missed the smell and taste of English white bread! After searching Europe they moved onto Egypt and decided to set up an English retreat in Luxor.  Here English tourists, many ‘who don’t like change’ can come, have a beer, eat some good old fashioned homemade white bread and smell the familiar scent of red roses.
There were many inspirations behind the piece, mainly ‘English-ness’ and my own experiences of living in a small town in Southern England where everyone knows everyone and no one likes it when things change! Also the nostalgic/kitsch qualities of certain objects, in this case the lampshade with frilly tassels that always remind me of my Grandmas house – my very own Judith!
What led you to submit it for the Summer Exhibition?
Honestly, the piece has been used for the last few years as my kitchen table, so I thought it would be nice for it to see the outside world.  There were of course more serious reasons – I have never submitted any work to the RA before so thought I would give it a shot.  The lampshade has also never been seen by the general public.  I must admit I never thought it would be so well received, it won me a high commendation for first time exhibitor and I was featured on the BBC Culture Show.  I think the fact that it’s a ‘domestic’ object within a building/architectural setting helps it stand out from the crowd. It’s also an object most people can relate to, something that is not so alien compared to many architectural models.
What did you think of the ‘raw’ theme and how your piece fitted in with that?
I always find the themes a bit of a cop-out. Raw, lets be honest, could mean anything. I think it’s difficult to make something look raw when it’s encased in an expensive acrylic box! I actually suggested they hang mine from the ceiling.
For me and my piece the rawness came from the process of making, there was no lasercutting involved it was all cut/stitched and drawn by hand so the closer you look the more you can see the mistakes through blobs of glue and the occasional rough edge.  The lampshade itself was pretty raw, I bought it for 50p from a carboot sale!
Did you have any personal favourites from the other exhibits?
I can’t deny I have a guilty want for the Gorilla (Silver Streak) by David Mach!
I also thought the Architecture Room and its new larger space was a big improvement on last year and  I found a few pieces in that room interesting. Peter Cook’s ink/water-colour tower took me back to the nostalgic days of early Archigram, and I loved the fact it worked equally well as both plan and elevation. There were two easy to miss small pieces by architectural cartoonist Louis Hellman which I really enjoyed as well and may have to purchase! Finally, a very overlooked piece by Pascal Bronner (I may be a bit biased, he’s a good friend) called New Malacovia – an amazing set of pencil drawings meticulously cut out and layered over each other creating an in depth environment.
Finally, are you working on any other projects at the moment/next?
As you know from my website the project ‘The Emperor’s Castle’ has been a rather large chunk of my work.  I have recently been developing the project further with the aim of holding an exhibition (London location yet to be found) and producing a small publication charting the story of the characters and their evolution into architectonic metaphors.
The sketchbook images (on the website) are becoming larger, more extensive pieces that tell the story as a whole as currently it’s quite difficult to illustrate the process through the sketchbook to more than one person.  I’m also in the beginning stages of another project which I hope will be a big one but sadly I’m keeping it a bit of a secret until its ready so you will have to wait and see…
Also, I guess I will have to try and top the Lampshade at next year’s Royal Academy Show!
You can keep up with all of Thomas’ latest work on his website thomashillier.co.uk
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