Who Is O. HIISI?
Few know O. HIISI past the name that is taking Bluethumb by storm. Operating at a level of anonymity that almost seems incompatible with today’s age of information, the artworks under his name have spoken volumes for him since his emergence in the art world. We caught up with the artist to talk ideas, aspirations and influences behind his iconic work.
The exact moment an artist earns the title isn’t black and white. O. HIISI is testament to that, with an interest in art stemming from childhood. “When I was a kid, I thought about being an artist but had no idea how to go about it – how to make that step, or even what it means to be an artist. You can do some drawings, you can make some paintings, but does that actually make you an artist? I’d put a few pieces in cafes and was surprised that they’d sold. That was the first time I realised that I might make some money from this. Still, making a career out of art – that was something I had no idea about until I found Bluethumb.”
Bold and vivant, O. HIISI’s artwork comes from an urge to create impact. “I love creating art that demands attention and interest.” He explains. “Usually models, who are friends, will come through; we’ll do a photoshoot and then from those photographs I’ll start with finding the lines, moving on to trying different colours. Primarily, what I’m doing is pop art, so a lot of the process is finding colours that go together, colours that sit well, or colours that jar in a certain way. It’s always line and colour.”
The unique final image we see across the canvas comes from a mixture of O. HIISI’s intuition and skill, influences and experiences. As an avid traveller, it seems inevitable that art forms and philosophies from culture-rich countries such as Japan and India would be important factors that shape his style. “I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to Japan. There’s something really clean about Japanese art, especially woodblock prints, and I guess I liked the look of that before I really knew anything about it. In Tokyo, I spent the first ten days just going to art galleries and museums because there’s so many that are really well set up. It’s such a cool and vibrant city, which I found totally inspiring – I saw so much art in that time, so clean and uplifting, that I felt the need to do something like that. I wanted to be involved.”
Sure enough, the effect of coming into contact with traditional Japanese art and pop artists such as Keith Haring and Brett Whitely has been long-lasting. “In all of these forms of art, line is the most important element, so that’s something that I try and carry through. Sometimes I try and mix up the style a bit, but I always find myself coming back to the simplest forms – just line. For me, it’s easier to sit with.”
While the moment one becomes an artist might not be clear-cut, the moments art deeply moves us often are. “My first experience of art, or my first important experience of art, was Matisse’s Spray of Leaves,” O. HIISI indicates. “It’s a huge, colourful paper cut-out. I thought there was something so clean and vibrant about that, something really pure. For some reason, I wanted to be that. It was almost outside of human realms. This was towards the end of his life during his minimalist period, which I think is some of his best work. These paper cut-outs were all single colours, stuck on to canvas… He had a number of health issues which didn’t allow him to paint anymore, so he had studio assistants come and he would just cut out and colour bits of paper; he’d then direct his assistant to hang them on different parts of the wall. They were coming from someone who was on death’s doorstep and was heavily physically restricted, yet the pieces themselves were so free and inspiring. It’s almost like the spirit is on the canvas. When I saw that work, I felt that I would rather be that than human.”
The significance of those that have inspired O. HIISI’s work, along with understanding the affairs and issues in the world, also largely contribute to his future aspirations. “It’s sad to see what’s going on in the world, and how things have escalated. This is another thing I love about art, however. You don’t have to be involved with too much; you can create without affecting your way of living,” O. HIISI explains. “I’ve always found the philosophy of Australian artist George Gittoes inspiring. For the past twenty years, he’s been going to war-torn parts of the world or areas where there’s generally a lot of violence or conflict, and creating in the face of it. This is something I hope to step into in the future: to create in the face of destruction. Gittoes and his wife are two of my biggest inspirations. His artwork is almost Shamanic in a way – it captures the violence of the human situation, and how bad it can get if we let it. I met him once at an exhibition, which was an incredible experience for me. ”
“The experiences that artists like Haring, like Matisse can give you are so important because of the way they bring you back to the innocence and the way we view the world before the conditioning of adulthood,” O. HIISI explains. The notion of stripping things back is distinctive and evident throughout O. HIISI’s work, and plays a key part in his approach to producing art. Memories as a child and his perception of children’s drawings are objects of fascination and importance to him. “As a kid, I remember drawing a gap between the earth and the sky, and being told that they meet together. Matisse, at the oldest time in his life, revisited this way of perception. So many artists, such as Keith Haring, teach us this freedom of expression in drawing. He doesn’t think; he just does it. The world is so much easier to digest through children’s drawings, and I aspire to create something that makes you feel that way. It’s easy to look at; it makes you feel good.”
Much of the success O. HIISI has experienced is put down to qualities of the artist himself. “I’m very receptive. I see it in others, which has helped me see it in myself. Seeing it in others as well as myself has led me to understand how to go about making art and being an artist. It’s just as much about other people as it is about you. Even though you do the art and it’s an expression of you, I’d say as much as 80% of it is about other people. Art is definitely a collective notion.”
What does the future hold for this young artist? Despite being firmly on the road to acclamation, O. HIISI, in his own words, is only just getting started. “Many of my goals involve getting better as an artist, working harder, exhibiting my work, and expressing myself more on canvas. I love the creative control I have over my work: I make the frames; I stretch the canvas; I do everything myself. These small things take time to get the hang of, but like anything else, it’s a matter of confidence. Confidence goes a long way in the process of art. I’m lucky enough to live from my passion, and I think the future will involve a lot more investing myself into what I love and seeing the return.”
Discover more artworks by O. HIISI on his Bluethumb profile here.