Van Gogh and wine — they’re both so delightfully European somehow. What starts in Europe, however, doesn’t necessarily stay in Europe, and the Walla Walla area finds itself with its own version of both:
Artist Jeffrey Hill — whose high color, swirling creations in paint earned him the nickname of Vineyard Van Gogh — celebrates the area’s ripening winemaking tradition with paintings, murals, and sculpture. If you’ve walked through the area at all, you have no doubt seen one of Hill’s works, whether it is the emblematic wine grape picker installed in the front of Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Enology and Viticulture or a mural at a winery tasting room.
“I got in on the ground floor chronicling the history of this Valley’s growth in grapes and wineries,” Hill, a fourth generation Walla Wallan, explains. “I found success with my paintings, murals, illustrations, fabrications, and sculptures in connection with the burgeoning Walla Walla wine industry.”
From Child Prodigy to Adult Master
Success indeed. Hill’s paintings, sculptures, and murals bedeck more than fifteen different wineries in the area. After winning the Washington Artist of the Year Award at the 2001 Washington Wine Festival, Hill was approached about installing his artwork at the WWCC Enology Center in 2003. Two large panel paintings in the foyer and six larger panel paintings in the reception hall tell the “Vine to Wine” story of winemaking in the Walla Walla area.
“I was a child prodigy in art beginning in my elementary school days,” Hill says. “At Prospect Point Elementary I was allowed to leave during the middle of the day and walk to Walla Walla High School to study art with Edwin Moser, Wa Hi’s art teacher.
“It was this experience that first allowed me to try my hands at sculpture and oil painting.”
Subsequent years, and hard work, led to scholarships to study with Dick Rasmussen, the then-head of the art department at Whitman College, eventually resulting in Hill’s 1978 graduation from Whitman with double majors in Fine Art and Art History. Hill then accepted a position with Sotheby’s, an exclusive auction house in London, UK, where he furthered his fine art studies.
Walla Walla does not give up its homegrown talent easily, however, and after a career in Seattle as an appraiser and fine art dealer, Hill found himself back on the family farm, Forgotten Hills, where he and his wife Kathryn planted a three-acre plot of Merlot.
“We had no idea if this would be successful,” Hill remembers, and while they waited, Hill decided to try his hand at painting the vineyards of the area — their landscapes, their workers, their people. What he created resonated quickly and powerfully with area merchants and residents, and winemaking took a back seat to capturing the process, in paint and bronze.
Hill’s paintings are bold, both in brush technique and color, and he captures a landscape, or an interior, with a sweeping sense of movement and energy. Pure pigments of color demand the viewer’s attention and draw him into the action. Even when the subject matter is still, there is movement.
After a recent trip to Europe, Hill chronicled the experience in oil and acrylic, and four of these paintings, which have never yet been shown, are on display at Wenaha Gallery, Dayton, WA, where Hill is the featured Art Event artist from Monday, April 14 through Saturday, May 3. Also featured will be Hill’s new sculpture, The Artist, in its debut to the public.
“I am very proud and excited that Wenaha will offer this piece for the first time,” Hill says.
“The Artist is a culmination of Walla Walla and Whitman themes. Here is the consummate painter in the moment of inspiration, depicting a Walla Walla vineyard scene.
“He paints en plein aire, possibly in the vineyard. He is possibly a Whitman College graduate, possibly a native son.”
A sculpture of a native son, by a native son, radiating a European feeling, in a Pacific Northwest setting. How delightfully Walla Walla.
Gallery artist at Wenaha Gallery in Dayton, WA, Jeffrey Hill is the featured Pacific Northwest artists for Art Event, a three-week showcasing of his works, beginning Monday, April 14, at the gallery. Hill’s Art Event runs through Saturday, May 3.
Wenaha Gallery, located in historic downtown Dayton, Washington, is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists. Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton; phone 509.382.2124; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about Art Event, our celebration of Pacific Northwest Artists, here.
This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.