not in residence
In the spring of 2022, Jill Hooper, an artist and teacher based in Charleston, South Carolina, was invited to travel with the Urban Electric team to create a series of paintings for The Current, Vol. 4. This is the story of her journey and inspiration.
“Being present physically makes all the difference in the world,” says Hooper. “I couldn't have gotten the same information by just googling any of it. You had to be there to understand it. See the textures, feel the heat of the sun, you know.”
Beyond the landscape, architecture and subject matter, however, it was stone itself that captured her imagination. Hooper was drawn to the subtle variations in color and texture, the endless nuances of its elegant veining. The challenge of rendering stone’s complexity in two dimensions, as she did so masterfully in her artwork, she found both captivating and satisfying.
Proportion came into play just as much with the colossal sculptures she encountered. “Initially I thought the Egyptians were naive about human anatomy,” Hooper says, “but far from it. The large legs and strong arms were just a reflection of everything pharaonic being larger than life. I was actually bowled over by the giant majestic sculptures and how much of an effect they had.”
Adept at rendering an expressive face in 20 minutes, Hooper easily nailed the likeness of a guide at a stone yard or men in conversation in a piazza. The monumental architecture of Egypt, though, presented far greater challenges than portrait studies, especially working within the same time constraint. “It’s not just being mindful of perspective and proportion,” Hooper says, “but also trying to make it have life and vitality, as art does.”
Hooper always paints from life and looks the part of the artist–dressed nattily in a fedora and crisp white shirt with a kerchief at the neck. Seeing her at work, seated in the dirt, gave the curious onlookers their own sense of ancient history, a throwback to earlier times when drawings were the only way to visually record astonishing sights.
Though Hooper typically spends a lot of time in the studio, either her own in Charleston, South Carolina, or those at the London Fine Art Studios, where she teaches master classes in composition, pen and ink, and oil painting, this time she was literally on the ground in Egypt and Italy, recording en plein air whatever caught her eye.
But this throng close to the majestic pylon was especially impressive. More than 50 people had gathered around, a crowd captivated by the act they were witnessing. At the center of it all was not a performer but still a magician of sorts, classical realist painter Jill Hooper.
There are always clusters of visitors in front of the Temple of Luxor, a 3,400-year-old complex around which modern day Luxor has grown.
Jill Hooper in her Charleston, South Carolina studio with an oil painting of a rams-head sphinx at karnak underway.