Yorkshire-born Vernon Hill was an outsider. His imaginative sculptures, drawings and etchings tumbled from an abundant mind, rich with mystical stories. Angels walk alongside the living while the natural elements are rendered in contorted muscular form.
His works transcend the material world and draw you into a strange alternate reality. Twisted figures from folklore are squeezed into etchings - seemingly bound by inked lines. Mermaids erupt from storm waters and the West Wind sprints through graphical dreamscapes.
Many found his works on paper to be ‘grotesque’ and too challenging but occasionally his exhibitions received a positive review.
“A slightly bizarre note is struck by Mr Vernon Hill, as may be partly gathered from the titles of his drawings: ‘Blind from Birth’, ‘Face of Yearning’, and ‘Edwin Storrs as a Fawn’. All of these, however, have an intrinsically fascinating quality.” Leicester Mail, May 18, 1914.
Vernon Hill was born in 1887 and studied lithography at the age of 13. He’s primarily known for his etchings but worked for many years as a sculptor. His primary influences span the centuries - from medieval relief carvings, and Renaissance frescoes, through to the sinuous lines of the modern age. And it’s this broad sphere of references that served him well.
For example, his relief carvings at Guildford Cathedral are simplistic, unusually timeless and appropriate for the environment. Whereas his illustrations for Richard Pearse Chope’s ‘Ballads Weird and Wonderful’ are a strange dream - a mixture of William Blake (1757-1827) and the Art Nouveau movement.
It’s intriguing to try and unpick Hill’s motivations as he’s such an unusual character. Perhaps much like William Blake, he preferred the internal workings of his own mind when compared to the realities of the modern world. Blake sought to reject materialism in favour of mystical philosophy - he believed that rationalism led to misery and oppression.
We may never know the truth, particularly as many of Hill’s works have been lost over time. But his charged ethereal creations will always strike an interesting chord when we glance back upon them.
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