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The Human Experience

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“Tree of Beauty,” stained glass work by Niki Hildebrand, now showing at ACES Gallery. Courtesy of artist.

“Tree of Beauty,” stained glass work by Niki Hildebrand, now showing at ACES Gallery. Courtesy of artist.

The human experience is something we all share, whether we are black, white, yellow, from North Carolina, Madrid or London. This idea of connectivity drew local artist Niki Hildebrand to her latest show, “Living in Harmony.“ Consisting of glass works, sketches and paintings, Hildebran is the featured artist at The Arts Council of Wilmington and NHC’s ACES Gallery in downtown Wilmington. Hildebrand’s work explores relationships of men and women and the “space between” the two bodies.

That all humans are connected and equal was instilled in Hildebrand from a young age. Born to a German mother and American father, Hildebrand grew up in London. “There was a sense of not necessarily belonging to one particular place,” she muses. “And I think that is what made me start to think about the idea that we really are all one and equal, and that we can connect to different people through human emotions and just the feelings of being human.”

From a stained-glass panel of Adam and Eve, to plates mirroring the structure of a cell, to cast blocks of all different human faces, her work is striking in color, texture and meaning. After 17 years of working with glass, Hildebrand reached a point in her career where she is able to bring her drawings, ideas and dreams to life.

Originally pursuing furniture design, it was only by a turn of fate that the artist became inspired to work with glass. “I went to a furniture exhibition of [NAME HERE] Mackintosh who used stained glass in his furniture,” she explains. “I realized then that stained glass was really what I was interested in.”

Afterward, she apprenticed at a stained-glass shop in London before attending the Rhode Island School of Design. In her four years studying glass arts, Hildebrand learned all about the chemistry of glass and the varied techniques used in its creation. She admits there were a lot of breakages and cracks at first, but she stuck with it. Today, she creates with little risk of damage. “Glass work is not for the faint-hearted,” she laughs, remembering all the ruined pieces.

Hildebrand’s pieces are bright and eye-catching; yet, they feel organic and deeply personal. One of her prints, referred to as “the space between” a man and a woman pulls the viewer into an intimate moment shared by the couple. Literally, the eye adjusts to the negative space between where they stand before the outline of their chests comes into focus.

The same is true for the picture of a man and woman kissing, and the stained-glass panel of a woman leaning on a man, entitled “Lean on Me.” Viewers feel almost as though they’re getting a glimpse on a private interaction without spying. In fact, on the contrary it feels as if they are meant to be there.

Other pieces in the collection, like cast blocks of different faces or hands, give a sense of belonging and inspire a feeling of the power of a collective group. Hildebrand’s favorite, “Swimming Through Life and Reaching Through to the Other Side,” grabs the eye. The sculpture is flame-worked, meaning the glass is molded over an open fire. The delicate legs and grasping arms are separated by blue glass. Hildebrand utilizes the pate de vair style, meaning layered glass leaves one side of the block with a rough, textured look. The other side is a clear polished blue, reminiscent of ice or calm waters. This structure sits on a wooden base, years of life apparent in the many rings of the tree. It intrigues and haunts simultaneously.
“Tree of Beauty” depicts a woman as a tree on a stained-glass panel. Its cool, calming colors and flowing lines evoke a sense of quiet beauty and unity with nature. It’s an image that confronts Hildebrand continually.

“I have been drawing that [image] since I was a little girl,” she comments. “Only recently did I think, ‘I should do something about this sketch.’”

Through a lot of her work, Hildebrand finds inspiration from dreams. “I will see the artwork already finished before I even begin,” she says. Once the idea manifests, Hildebrand will sketch the work a few times before making the transition to glass. Because of the nature and scale of the equipment, the artist works out of three studios, each equipped for different techniques.

“What I try to get across in my work is the sort of feeling of being human, which relates to all of us,” Hildebrand states. “I hope that initially the beauty will attract people, but then they might think more about either life,or convention, or the idea that we are all really equal and that we can connect through emotions and feelings.”

“Living in Harmony” will be on display at ACES Gallery through August 20th. Admission is free and open to the public.

Living in Harmony
ACES Gallery
221 North Front St., Suite 101
Featuring art work by Niki
Closes August 20th

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