Bishop Donald Hilliard Jr. is a seasonal Vineyard resident, an artist, and a noted pastor in New Jersey, where he leads a congregation of more than 6,000 people.
Last weekend, Bishop Hilliard was the featured preacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp-Meeting Association’s Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. Next weekend, he will show his paintings at Dragonfly Fine Arts Gallery.
Called “Let Go, Let Gesture: Abstract Ascension,” his show features 23 pieces of non-representational art, ranging from a 48- by 60-inch painting called Sunburst to one titled Vista that measures just six inches by eight. Oil, acrylic, and mixed media paintings present flashes of color, moments of texture. Bishop Hilliard’s brushstrokes are prominent and his colors are bold. Dragonfly owner Don McKillop describes the paintings as full of “a lot of energy, a lot of inspiration.”
Dragonfly is collaborating with Tucker Contemporary Art of New York City in presenting Bishop Hilliard’s art. An artist himself, Roger Tucker is a private collector who represents about half a dozen artists in New York. He said he was primarily struck by the way Bishop Hilliard “handles the media; he seemed to have a real innovative and expressive way of using paint.”
Although some of the most unusual pieces include discarded objects like pill bottles strewn on a red palette, some of the most striking works are paintings where complicated and sharp movements of colors create a simple harmony.
Contacted for a phone interview Monday morning, Bishop Hilliard was in the middle of painting a connected piece, where several canvases make one work of art. He said the piece was aquamarine, magenta, and yellow, a color often used in his paintings.
“I am a colorful person. I am gregarious, considered an extrovert,” Bishop Hilliard said, “I love bright colors, colors that lift the mood.”
Consecrated in 1995, he is the presiding bishop and founder of the Covenant Ecumenical Fellowship and Cathedral Assemblies, Inc. He serves as spiritual advisor and mentor for several pastors and churches across the United States and in West Africa.
Becoming an artist as a teenager, Bishop Hilliard returned to painting after a long hiatus at age 47 while recovering from a life-threatening illness.
“I was on seven weeks of bed rest, and I started painting again,” he said, “Then one day someone looked at it and said they wanted to buy my work. I wasn’t painting for business, or to be an artist. I was just trying to express myself.
“I let the paint move me, and the mood move me. I like to see how, in my case, God creates something out of nothing. It’s an empty canvas, and that’s how our lives are. I say we create our canvas. Regardless of what canvas life has given us, hope means we can start again. We are still being painted.”
Mr. McKillop said he appreciated the human interest aspect of Bishop Hilliard’s work. “A lot of times artists’ work is desirable and collectable, but what really makes the final decision for buyers is the story behind the paintings.”
The works be on display Saturday, August 11, in conjunction with the Oak Bluffs Arts District Stroll. Mr. Hilliard will be present to speak with attendees.
Let Go, Let Gesture: Abstract Ascension, Dragonfly Gallery, Saturday, August 11, 11 am to 7 pm. For information, call 508-693-8877 or go to mvdragonflygallery.com.