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@ Work: Artist David Hill

Dec. 10, 2005 – The bright blue wooden doors open into the small but comfortable gallery in the Royal Dane Mall in downtown Charlotte Amalie, and you are surrounded by life, color, light and water – always water.
This is the new David Hill gallery.
Hill greets you and you wonder if this young man who appears about 22 years old can be the artist himself. Actually, he is a full seven years older
Hill is the only artist his age who has his own gallery. This observation is not something that Hill would point out. He is soft-spoken, if not actually shy, but he appears totally comfortable with what he is doing. In fact, frequently when visitors stop by the gallery, they look right past Hill searching for someone older. He is unassuming.
"It's me," he says to a visitor, who is looking around quizzically. "Please look around, have a seat."
Hill is a St. Thomian, less one day. "I was born in Tortola," he says, "but only because my mom was on vacation there."
He and his mother, Debi Cashen, returned to St. Thomas the next day where Hill remained until his teens, when he left to finish high school in the States.
"I went to a military school," he says, "so there wasn't really an art department. We had one art course, but my counselor would let me take it each year."
After high school, Hill moved to Ft. Lauderdale to study computer animation at Lesley University. He got his degree, but his heart wasn't in cyberland.
"I knew computers weren't what I wanted," he says.
Hill sought change and he found it by traveling to Florence, Italy for a summer course.
"I needed raw training," he says.
He spent the summer months studying figure drawing and learning oils. He spent more time traveling, including some time in Hawaii "taking classes here and there," he says.
He returned to St. Thomas in 1999, and presented his works for the first time professionally at a group show on St. John at the Pink Papaya.
As for school, Hill says "you can learn the most at the worst school, or the least at the best school."
He left St. Thomas again to attend the Art Institute of Boston, where he received his degree in 2004.
"I had my best college class there. It was a class in advanced drawing," he says.
"The instructor told us 'you may not like this class,' and it's where I learned the most. He said, 'what we are going to do today is draw circles,' and we all thought, what? And we sat there and we drew circles. When the class was over, he put all the drawings next to each other, and we could see how different we all were."
The class next drew squares, and then progressed to lines, Hill recalls, becoming somewhat animated as he speaks.
"When we began working with lines, I just kept drawing the lines, the pulling and pushing of lines, the perspective."
Hill says the instructor told them that they would see what they were visually drawn to.
"And," he says, "I saw the lines."
These days, the lines have translated into water, into waves. Hill is immersed in his water paintings.
"At first, I just did the water itself, the waves, no horizons," he says. "Then, I began thinking about the reflections and I got playful, working with color on the water.
"In fact," he says, "that was the name of my show at the Reef, 'Reflections'."
Etching is another of Hill's passions. In a manner of explaining his art philosophy, he says, "Concepts travel through different mediums."
The gallery walls are also filled with the etchings, images so complex and intricately drawn, they would seem to have taken forever. Not so. Hill learned etching in Boston.
"I almost lived in the print shop," he says. "I taught an evening class for kids who had dropped out of school, street kids."
He looks fondly at a work, which at first glance has a sort of Biblical feel. Looking closely, you see it's a bunch of young men in a close circle looking up at a taller man who is rapping.
"One night I saw them standing on the corner outside, and I went right back to the print shop. It was my birthday, and I decided to give myself a birthday present.
"The shop was open 24 hours right then, and I worked all night long," Hill says. "And, at sunrise, I had my piece."
It isn't always that easy, he says.
"Sometimes I have to fight with something, really fight it, and it just won't come.
"I'm still trying to figure out a landscape of Peterborg," he says, "for years now."
Hill now has an etching press in the gallery, which he works on daily. Being in the gallery allows him time to work. There are two fresh water oils leaning in one of the windows.
The gallery is in one of downtown's old stone buildings. The ceiling is tall, and the light, both natural and artificial is expertly geared to show off the art. Hill says he always had an interest in drawing. His mother, a former silversmith, is happy to elaborate.
"Ever since David was little, he loved to watch me make jewelry," Debi Cashen says. "He would climb up on the bench and spend hours making little swords out of the silver, swords, skateboards, all kinds of stuff. He has always been creative.
"When he was two years old, he drew a hibiscus for me. It was beautiful," she says. "He goes from one thing to another, and he just keeps going."
The paintings range from $18,000 for a large oil at the far end of the gallery, a set of images called Four Waves, to prints starting at $30.
Hill's work can be seen in one other venue, Galleria Del Sol on St. John. Also, aside from his paintings, prints and etchings, Hill has a line of Caribbean greeting cards carried in several outlets on St. Thomas.

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