Separating Annie Hiller from her art would be about as easy as separating the ink from her tattoos, which, of course, she designed. In her hand painted leather jacket and a home-cut mullet, Hiller is well aware, she’s a pretty unique person. For the 20-year-old, art has never been just a hobby. It’s who she is.
Artist from the outset
“Usually little kids will bounce around between astronaut or teacher,” said Hiller. “I was always set on being an artist and an animator.”
Hiller was born in Shakopee but grew up in Mankato. As a kid, she was always drawing; a lot of fan art, doodles throughout the day, and she remembers early in grade school coming home to spend the evening making animations online.
“I’ve been an artist for as long as I remember,” said Hiller. “I was one of those kids that got in trouble in school for doodling on assignments.”
Hiller attended Mankato West where she took every art class she could and was voted “Most Artistic.” During this time, Hiller was focusing on photorealism, trying to make her pieces look as realistic as possible. But while her craft was growing, realism couldn’t capture her passion.
I like the change and I like the world around me is constantly changing and I want to change with it.Annie Hiller
“When I was in high school, I was really into photo realism. I wanted to do realism as well as I could. Then suddenly it just stopped, and I started straying from that and doing more collage style and doodling,” said Hiller. “I’d doodle and fill up pages and see how much I could fill, and then it turned back into portraits.”
After graduating from Mankato West, Hiller was accepted into the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where she was exposed to new mediums. However, she quickly began to feel that the timing was off. For one thing, the pandemic was taking classes virtual, and Hiller didn’t enjoy learning that way. For another, she had a health scare that took doctors weeks to sort out. Hiller was unable to keep up with classes.
“I was worried I was going to be kicked out of school,” said Hiller. “I decided, with the way the world was going, the universe was telling me I shouldn’t be in school right now.”
Hiller dropped out and returned to Mankato. Then, Hiller hit a low point. The stress of a rapidly changing world and her own uncertain future made it feel impossible to create. For a period of time, she didn’t paint at all.
“I came back and I just felt really broken. I didn’t work, I didn’t do anything,” said Hiller.
That’s when the finger painting started.
Hands on artist
After this hibernation period, Hiller approached her paints in a new way.
“I found a backing to a movie poster and I threw one of those guys on it. And that’s just been something I’ve made ever since,” said Hiller. “I hit a low point and I almost snapped into it.”
After blocking out a portrait, Hiller stuck her fingers into the paint and began to move.
“It’s so hard to explain how I do it. It’s such an instinct thing, like what my body should be doing,” said Hiller. “I feel almost feral.”
The black-backed portraits displayed in the Fillin’ Station are all finger painted. The breakthrough has steered her artistic journey into a new, revived direction. Fingerpainting brought the passion back.
“I’m really glad I dropped out when I did,” said Hiller.
All of Hiller’s favorite recent works are finger painted.
“It’s just my favorite way to paint,” said Hiller. “That’s why I like working on bigger pieces. I can’t shrink my fingers, so detail is a lot harder. You can see my fingers smashed in their bloody noses.”
Fervent and fiery
Hiller works in warm colors; reds, oranges, and yellows sliced with black and dotted with white.
“I’ve always been drawn to warm colors. I’m not sure why,” Hiller says, surrounded by portraits in vibrant orange, yellow, and reds. “The warm colors just feel so familiar in a way. It’s natural for me. It’s more of a feeling than something I know.”
Her portraits balance a lot of things. They’re dark but bright, tidy in their disarray, soft in their bluntness. They verge on upsetting. Some might even be called gory, but not in a way that turns the stomach, never in a way that makes you want to look away. If you lean in close enough you can literally see Hiller’s fingerprints across the canvas.
“I just got really into accenting the features of the face. It’s very personal. There’s no covering. They obviously know something, but they’re not all there,” said Hiller.
Head to toe, in her art, music, and style, Hiller strives to be original.
“One of the highest compliments I’ve received is that my art doesn’t look like anything else. It’s not a copy of anything else,” said Hiller.
That originality often comes from the indescribable. Many of the things that make Hiller’s work unique are without conscious origin. Her own process is, itself, a bit of a mystery.
“You could sit down and watch me paint and I’d be absent minded the whole time and if You asked me about how I did it I wouldn’t have the words for it. I don’t know how I do it,” said Hiller. “All my best art makes me feel like, ‘I don’t know what just happened.’”
This collection at the Fillin’ Station is one of Hiller’s first exhibitions, but it won’t be her last. Hiller is considering moving west in the near future. Wherever she goes, art and originality are certain to follow.
“I like the change and I like the world around me is constantly changing and I want to change with it,” said Hiller.
Most of Hiller’s displayed work is for sale and there are prints, stickers, and business cards available near the checkout. To purchase send an email to Annie Hiller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her art is also viewable on Instagram @dirtyrat.tiff. Hiller is also open to limited commissions. Her collection will be at the Fillin’ Station in Mankato through the end of March.
Artist of the Month is a column by Molly Butler, in which she’ll be profiling the current displaying artist at one of MankatoLIFE’s favorite meeting spots, the Fillin’ Station in Mankato.