Long before jeans were sold with holes already ripped in them, Charles Christopher Hill made works that looked as if they had been run through the wringer and tumble-dried with a load of rocks — after having been stitched back together so many times that their surfaces were nothing but overlapped patches.
If Dr. Frankenstein were a tailor, and not a mad scientist, he might very well have made garments that resemble Hill’s pieced-together wall works.
Stitching a patch over a patch — over and over again — takes visitors back to a time when materials were more expensive than labor and people repaired their possessions because new ones were unattainable.
At the same time, the labor-intensive relentlessness of Hill’s wildly weathered art is utterly contemporary. To see his eight blanket-size collages at Leslie Sacks Gallery in Santa Monica is to feel the passion of someone struggling to hold it together — and succeeding magnificently.
The plainness of Hill’s materials (faded fabric, scraps of newsprint and yards of thread) gives his works wallop. The simplicity of his process (stitching endlessly, with a common sewing machine) adds authenticity. You feel that he has made something out of nothing, something beautiful in the face of adversity, scarcity and neglect. An ethos of go-it-alone individualism — and dyed-in-the-wool ingenuity — takes shape.
Five pieces made from 1975 to 1978 have the presence of flags so wind-whipped and sun-bleached that their emblems and colors have all but disappeared. Although it’s impossible to know what groups or movements each predominantly monochrome collage might have represented, it’s clear that all have been cared for, with devotion and love.
Time gets compressed in Hill’s ghost flags. Each seems to have been passed from one generation to another, its meanings shifting as times changed, needs evolved, stories got lost and others took their place.
Three pieces made in 1985 and 1986 have more elaborate patterns, more complex color combinations and more idiosyncratic stitchery. Quilts and rugs come to mind, along with ancient petroglyphs, homemade game boards and jailhouse tattoos, the rudimentary ornamentation of all a testament to the optimism of persistence.
At a time when memories seem shorter than they should be, it’s great to see Hill’s works from 30 and 40 years ago. The patience with which they were made stands out even more in our world of rapidly diminishing attention spans.
Leslie Sacks Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica. Through June 2; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 264-0640, www.lesliesacks.com