Hilary Glass Explores Gender Cues Through Drawing Birds | Visual Art | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Hilary Glass Explores Gender Cues Through Drawing Birds


Published January 8, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.

Artist Hilary Glass in her Montpelier studio - JEB WALLACE -BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace -brodeur
  • Artist Hilary Glass in her Montpelier studio

Since 2016, Montpelier-based artist Hilary Ann Love Glass has put out an annual calendar featuring plants, wildlife and fantastical creatures. For her 2020 calendar, she produced detailed pen-and-ink studies of birds — but the statement on the back of the calendar is just as interesting as the art itself.

Glass wrote that every bird featured in the calendar could be found in Vermont and is monomorphic, meaning there's no significant visual difference between sexes within the species.

"This is interesting to me, as we humans often use visual gender assumptions as the basis for our daily interactions," Glass wrote. "What would it be like if that were different?"

Glass, 36, grew up in Essex and has been drawing casually since childhood. But she began to take her art more seriously as a career path after attending Burlington's South End Art Hop in 2010.

Nearly a decade later, Glass' work — ink on paper or in tattoos — can be found throughout the state. Seven Days spoke to her about her calendar, her evolving understanding of gender and what it takes to make a living from one's art without sacrificing joy.

Drawing from Hilary Glass' bird calendar - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Drawing from Hilary Glass' bird calendar

SEVEN DAYS: Tell me about your journey to becoming an artist.

HILARY GLASS: Drawing was just always there in my day-to-day life, but I've had a lot of other different jobs through my life. I picked apples. I worked at H&R Block doing taxes. I love seasonal jobs and coffee shops, for sure.

I think I've been nervous all along to do art for work, because it is just a crucial part of how I know how to feel good in the world. So I wasn't sure what doing that for income would change.

I feel like I've gotten to meet a lot of people trying to walk that same journey — and gotten a lot of input and advice on how to care for yourself while you do that, and care for your creative spirit or joy. And it's really hard.

SD: What are some of your strategies to make it work?

HG: Remembering that you're not any kind of machine, or you're not a production line. You can have a balance of producing certain things, but you also have to inhale. You have to observe the world. Someone told me this: "You have to inhale to exhale." The way it works for me is remembering that I do have to go on walks. I do have to spend time thinking about nothing in order to let there be space for ideas to work themselves out.

SD: I was really intrigued by the statement on monomorphic birds on the back of your calendar. Tell me about the genesis of that idea.

HG: One reason it takes me so long to do the calendar is, I want one idea that has some coherence. I also love to put my own curiosity and ideas about how I want to change the world in there.

I was going to work on a tattoo for a friend, and we had been talking about which birds were monomorphic. I loved this idea that there are many, many, many animals doing their life without any indication of what gender or sex they are.

It was sort of affirming or validating, too, because there's a lot of folks in my life that are either trans or nonbinary, or just feeling like, for whatever reason, male or female, they've been boxed as some sort of thing because of their gender.

I intended [the statement] to be sort of an invitation, not "I am telling you how it is." Imagine: Why do we choose this circumstance? Is [gender] a choice and a story that we create?

I think I used to feel like an ally in some way, because I was born female and feel comfy with that as I go through the world. But the more I witness other people kind of pushing to be like, "What is gender? Why is it useful?" I'm like, "Oh, you're benefiting everybody. This isn't a thing that only the nonconforming people are going to deal with. You're actually pushing and making everyone grow to understand gender differently."

My own journey has been a lot of learning. I have this amazing book I'd like to reference — this great illustrator just came out with this book that's incredible. It's Seeing Gender by Iris Gottlieb.

Drawing from Hilary Glass' bird calendar - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Drawing from Hilary Glass' bird calendar

SD: Do you find that you notice birds more in your everyday life?

HG: Oh, totally. I have this next month, maybe a little longer, to kind of reassess how I'm doing all art things, and I'm taking a break from tattooing for a little bit, which is great. I fully intend to do more bird-watching. I feel sort of incongruous — I spend a lot of time drawing the natural world, plants and animals, and I'm not spending that much time outside.

SD: Once you're tuned in to the bird world, birds are everywhere.

HG: Yes. They're not at your eye level. Has it ever happened where you start driving a different car, and you notice all those Hondas, where you used to only notice the other type of car? You orient to what is on your radar.

I've been in a couple years of solid output. I feel like I've been the kind of art maker that's like, "I've got to make! I've got to make! Go, go, go!" I appreciate parts of it. But I do need some more input and some more observing the world around me. You have to have something to draw from.

SD: Do you know where you want to go in the long term?

HG: I'm kind of taking the time off to research and look into making kids' books. I feel like not that many people in mainstream culture are exercising their imaginations. We have an imagination problem, in relation to gender, too.

Imagining the world that we want to be in needs to happen at the same time we're criticizing the world that we're in. I'm really on board and curious about how to build imagination skills, and I really want that to be a part of how I do art.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Avian Inspiration | Hilary Glass explores gender cues through drawing birds"