Pati Hill, “Alphabet of Common Objects” (c. 1975–79), 45 black and white copier prints, each 11 x 8.5 inches (image courtesy Estate of Pati Hill)
The Personal and Poetic Prints of a Female Pioneer of Copier Art
April 20, 2016
GLENSIDE, Pa. — Last weekend, I made the short drive from Philadelphia to Arcadia University, about a half-hour outside the city. A friend had highly recommended an exhibition on view at Arcadia University, Pati Hill: Photocopier, A Survey of Prints and Books (1974–83). I was not particularly excited to see a show of copier art. How different could the images of these photocopies be from the actual copies themselves? As I drove out to see it, I could not suppress the clichés of regrettable high school art projects, misconstrued collages, silly zines, and ubiquitous hands, faces, and ass cheeks pushed up onto Xerox machines.
Stepping into the gallery, I gazed at the show, curated by Richard Torchia, as it presented grids, lines, and vitrines bursting full of Pati Hill’s delicate, remarkable images, all made on the rather unremarkable IBM Copier II. My cynicism was obliterated. I felt a stunning empathy for these images of daily life, laid bare on the cold, smooth glass of a hulking electronic machine, contextualized by snippets of writing that dipped in and out of memory, metaphor, wit, and the kinds of fleeting thoughts one thinks but never utters aloud.
Installation view of ‘Pati Hill: Photocopier, A Survey of Prints and Books (1974–83)’ at Arcadia University Art Gallery (image courtesy Greenhouse Media)
The perfect everydayness — the absolute banality of the objects Pati Hill copied — creates its own meaning. Each object glimmers and sinks into the darkness of the black pigment that surrounds it like a drawing in the most luscious charcoal. The sheets are all 8 ½ x11 inches, standard copy paper size, but the fragility of the medium struck me as stubborn, poignant, utterly unpretentious. A successful novelist and model in the 1950s, Hill’s artistic production grinded to a halt when she married her third husband, New York gallerist Paul Bianchini, had a child, and became a self-described housewife. As she fell into the role of wife and mother, a 10-year hiatus of her creative practice ensued. In the 1960s, however, she emerged from her hiatus to become a visual artist, in addition to a writer.