John L. Hill (@jlhill_art) is making a pretty big name for himself. The ATLien is known for his dynamic and diverse portraits of celebs ranging from The Notorious B.I.G. to Jimmy Buffett. His work is one of a kind and, for lack of a better word, amazing. But even more impressive is the young artist’s determination to leave an impact on the art world and change the way generations interact with art going forward, an initiative motivated by his own journey.
Encouraged by his father, Hill started experimenting with pens and pencils at just 9 years old. But it wasn’t until much later that he’d find the courage to break out of the confines of traditional art. “I was stuck in a place where I thought there were rules,” says Hill. “I kept asking myself: Is this the wrong way to do it or the right way to do it?” The transition from pens and pencils to paint is what would eventually open the door to self-expression—something Hill credits for the success of some of his most famous portraits. Now, he marries realism and abstract to bring energy to one-of-a-kind portraits.
The process is a bit spontaneous, but always starts with a subject. Hill gravitates toward people and pictures he feels an emotional connection to. “Whether they’re musicians or athletes, they are people who have impacted my life,” he says. Then starts the 15- to 25-hour process of bringing the portrait to life. Hill will start with a sketch, working in color little by little as he begins to feel the emotion of the piece. The results are powerful portraits of legends and leaders like Kobe Bryant, Marilyn Monroe and Malcolm X. It’s no wonder celebs like Steve Harvey, Dr. Dre and Herschel Walker have tapped the young artist to paint some of their biggest heroes.
Despite all of this, Hill remains humble. He talks lovingly about his wife and about growing up in Gwinnett County. But his humility doesn’t detract from his determination. “One of my biggest long-term goals is to become an in-demand artist, not only in the United States but outside the U.S. as well,” he admits. The goal isn’t far out of reach; his team teases some big projects slated for the artist in 2020, and his online presence grows by the minute. Still, Hill stays rooted in his beginnings. He is passionate about seeing art flourish here in Atlanta, and he hopes artists like him can change the way younger generations view art, encouraging them to lean more on self-expression to motivate their artistic endeavors.
Photography by: By John L. Hill