When the Workday has Ended, Employees Turn to Diverse Activities
The following story is part of an ongoing series that highlights the diverse and interesting after-work activities of our many SWBOCES employees. If you’d like to be part of this series, send an email to Colette Connolly at email@example.com.
The best way to work off steam after a long day at the office is to get involved in an activity you love. Here at BOCES, there’s a dedicated itinerant art teacher who divides his time between St. Matthew’s Church in White Plains, where BOCES houses a number of Project AIIM and Excel classes, and the TSP Program at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison. For years, however, Nils Hill has worked as an independent artist, lovingly creating a myriad of works, including sculptures and a whole selection of abstract paintings.
Here’s a closer look at this talented artist, who is soon retiring from BOCES after 31 years as a special education teacher.
Perhaps the most exciting time in Nils’s life was when he lived in lower Manhattan in the early 1970s. A recent graduate of Indiana University where he received an MFA in sculpture, Nils was ready to take on the world as an emerging artist. “It was a very interesting atmosphere back then,” says Nils, who remembers working and living in a vibrant community of young painters. At the time, it was not easy to find full-time work as an artist, so Nils supplemented his income working as a carpenter, a house painter and as a substitute art teacher.
In 1977, he married Ivy Dachman, a former BOCES adaptive design specialist who retired a few years ago, and both of them continued to live in Manhattan. Nils remembers some of his earliest work, which transitioned from sculpture to painting, and was constructed not on canvas but on masonite, a sturdy type of wood hardboard. Much of that work included compositions of linear abstraction in low relief, created on heavily textured surfaces.
By 1979, rents were rising in lower Manhattan and many artists fled the city, as did Nils and his wife. They found themselves living in the Ossining home that Nils’s grandfather had constructed in 1947, and it was there that he created several pieces, many of them much smaller than the ones he had painted in his New York City loft space. When his work began to get larger and larger again, Nils moved his studio to another space in northern Westchester, where he currently works evenings and weekends.
To say that Nils’s work is totally abstract would be a misconception of him as an artist. A lot of his early work was influenced by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, who is best known for creating “non-objective” art, a visual type of art that combines colors and forms that ultimately result in images with no identifiable objects. “My painting has evolved over the years and has changed in form, materials and size,” explains Nils. “At times I have incorporated recognizable images presented as emblematic devices, and I have worked with landscape imagery, too.”
These days, he describes his works as having a “luminous and mysterious depth.” When beginning such projects, Nils says he works “intuitively” and then makes other associations, which often come to him as a result of his traveling both locally and abroad. For example, the idea for his “White Road” series of paintings, created in 2006, came out of a trip to Tuscany.The ideas that were transcribed on canvas were not a literal interpretation of what he saw and felt, says Nils, but were meant to illustrate an “emotive” interpretation.
Nils’s work often starts with a drawing and then emerges as tiny marks on a canvas that, when joined together, turn into a layering of colors and the further enhancement of the initial markings. This recent trend in his work, which originated in 2005, was first exhibited in 2006 with an award-winning piece in the “Art of the Northeast” group exhibit, which was held at the Silvermine Guild in New Canaan, Conn. It was also showcased in a solo exhibit at The Studio Annex in New York.
This long-time BOCES employee is grateful for the freedom his job provided him, especially during the summer months when he worked on a variety of interesting projects. While he enjoyed working with special education students, the creations he made outside of his job have brought him the most joy. “I make art because that’s what I love to do, and that’s what I have always done.”
His work has been featured in several regional exhibitions, including four solo installations in New York City and Pound Ridge. He has received favorable reviews in the New York Times, and has been the recipient of two notable awards/distinctions for his work as an artist. They include the “Diane Alexander Memorial Award for Acrylic Painting,” which he received in 2006, and being selected to the “Marquis Who’s Who in America” publication, a prestigious listing of the most accomplished professionals in the country.