Hildy Maze: The Material Concerns of a Spiritual Artist

A thoughtful and introspective artist who also needs to earn a living
What may look like a messy studio is actually part of Hildy Maze’s artistic process as she ages the paper she chucks on the floor before using portions of it in her collages. Jennifer Landes

With a devotion to Tibetan Buddhist meditation a central tenet of her practice, Hildy Maze is a thoughtful and introspective artist who also needs to earn a living. In the face of a fickle art market, she has become creative in promoting her work to potential clients.

She works in a cluttered and messy studio in Springs littered with the paper she likes to “age” on her floor before she culls the fragments to make collages. At the same time, she uses the web and Facebook creatively to showcase her work, employing a new paradigm for artists who don’t fit into a traditional gallery model.

“I’ve had a difficult time getting galleries to show this work out here. Most have never even wanted to see it” in a studio visit. “They see it only online, and don’t even know it’s gritty.”

Although years ago she had a regular presence in the area, now her work is more likely to be shown somewhere else or on websites with nationwide followings, the result of her winning competitions to be included there. “It might be too different. I don’t know what the problem is, but it’s really been difficult out here.”

It is not as if she’s not showing at all. Her curriculum vitae includes listings of group exhibitions at Crush Curatorial, featured work on Artsy, the Long Island Biennial at the Heckscher Museum, the annual “East End Collected” show at the Southampton Arts Center, and more. But there has been no continuous representation from a regular brick-and-mortar gallery.

So, like many artists, she’s had to become creative. “I have a wonderful following on the web,” she said. “People really like the work, and since I’m not getting a gallery interested, I feel like I’m not making art in a vacuum.”

Her art is inspired by her spirituality and how the mind works, and using the figure “to convey our thoughts, emotions, fears, and the way we ignore or don’t understand how the mind works.”

“I’m trying to make a personal connection with people,” she said, “and have them make a personal connection with themselves.”

Although her work is abstracted, there is a clear use of the figure throughout her series. “It just makes sense to use the body,” she said. “It would be hard to do complete abstraction, just shapes on a page, and then talk about the mind.”

The pieces on the walls of Ms. Maze’s studio on a fall afternoon were from her “No Inherent Existence” series. “I don’t expect people necessarily to understand that, but if they wanted to they could,” she said. “In the end, all of these images are an imitation of life. If someone paints a flower, it’s going to be an imitation.” She added that how we see the world is an imitation, and “our own sense of identity is only an imitation of who we are. It’s not really who we are.”

While her art is a reflection of Buddhism, some of her recent work has political undertones as well, particularly involving the United States’ ever-evolving immigration policy. “I made a lot of pieces. They were about two things: the mind and the immigration policy, because it’s the mind that created that policy to begin with; it’s the mind that creates everything. It all begins there.”

She has worked in paint and drawings, but collage has been her medium of choice for several years. “I was aware of Buddhism as a theory years ago, but I hadn’t applied it to my work. It was the way I understood the world, how I understood things, but it wasn’t put into physical action.” She began to wonder how to take all she had learned and was practicing and “make it a technical aspect of the work. So I started one step at a time, and then collage naturally fell into it. I thought, ‘This makes sense. This works.’ ”

One day, she didn’t like a drawing she was working on and ripped it up. “It’s hard to track, but that was the beginning.” Now she does it intentionally. “I sit down and make drawings. If I don’t like it, which I generally don’t, I’ll rip it up and throw it on the floor and then I go again.” She now calls the process “making paper . . . a process of creation and destruction.”

It can be seen as letting go, but she also likes the impermanence of paper. “It’s not as stable and secure. The art world likes stable and secure.” As important to her process is the time the paper spends on the floor as she, her cats, and visitors walk on top of it, making it dirty and wrinkled. “Sometimes people say, ‘What did you do, sleep on that paper?’ because it’s so wrinkled.”

Ms. Maze said she likes “old things, flaky paint, antiques, things that had a life.” That is not necessarily the contemporary aesthetic. As a result, “it’s very difficult to sell work, even online,” she said. “I have sold some stuff from Facebook. I had a group of small, old studies, wonderful drawings that had been stacked up in my basement. I started with 50 studies at $100 each. I sold a fair amount.” 

She has continued that sales format for her old drawings using a combination of Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, and emails as marketing tools with varying degrees of success. “One guy said, ‘I wanted to buy your work for so long. I would like 10.’ I thought, ‘God, I love you.’ ”

Still, it’s highly competitive. “I’ve been winning competitions where they then represent you as part of an online gallery. I have several of those going, but I’ve never sold anything.” Dealers who have visited her have asked her “to do something blue.” Although she is prolific, that’s not how she works. “If it comes up, I’ll do blue, but I can’t make something blue on command.”

“Reflections on the Border” reflects how current events sometimes seep into her work.
In addition to her prolific work in collage, Hildy Maze likes to make small sculptures from natural clay, as seen in her studio. Jennifer Landes