Becoming the Hilton Brothers
THE HILTON BROTHERS
It was instantaneous and they had little to say in the matter. In 2004, Christopher Makos and Paul Solberg unconsciously started to collaborate after meeting on their bikes in NYC. The seasoned eye of Makos’ fusing with the fresh eye of Solberg produced a creative collision that was different from the two individuals.
Makos and Solberg are kindred spirits of unconscious relentless observation. With cameras in hand, their bike rides quickly turned into car trips which turned into overseas trips. They went back and forth to Outwest USA, to Cairo, Saigon, Palermo, Vietnam and back again. Both are plagued with insatiable curiousity; putting ideas together, sharing the process of taking pictures of the same subjects. Being natural Anthropologists with cameras, every destination is the last place on earth, including their home city of Manhattan, where they try and see New York life through new eyes, even though they’ve been in the city well over half a Century cumulatively. When they get together they sit and watch the world go by, whether they’re in Madrid, Cairo, or New York, studying people’s expressions and rhythm.
The Hilton Brothers were born from the collaboration of Christopher Makos and Paul Solberg which began from their travels In 2004. They were both drawn to similar subject matter when they were in the latest exotic location, from Luxor, Alaska, to Hanoi or Mallorca. While on the road, they naturally photographed the same subjects, as a natural result of traveling side by side. Back in the studio, looking at the printed results, it was fascinating for them to see where their sensibilities merged and diverged. It was the collision of identity, derived from the most authentic evolution. Unlike artists who assign themselves to collaborate, this collaboration presented itself to the two artists. As one year turned into five, and ten into fifteen years. It became a photographic journal of two artists photographing the same experience, which led them to begin a series of diptychs. Over time, they reviewed their photographic history to tell a new story in one work.
As the collaboration deepened, a blurring of individual egos endued. Inspired by the Vaudeville duo of the 1930's, Makos and Solberg began calling their collective works, and themselves, the Hilton Brothers.
During this period (c. 2005), Makos was working on a book for Glitterati Publishers called Equipose, wherein he reimagined the standard imagery of horses. Much like Solberg's flowers, rather than objectify the animal, Makos' camera was drawn to the anatomy of the animal. At the same time, Solberg had independently been working on a series of photographic flower portraits. In 2004, Solberg spent his first two weeks locked in the studio, obsessively examining his newly plucked subjects. First, documenting and admiring their perfection, to documenting their destruction. The images show a new take on the flower subject, striped of sentimentality. The result for both photographers and their subjects is detail within detail, the anatomy rather than the whole, the soul rather than the expectation.
"The lesson I take from Man Ray is 'Always obey your first Impression', says Makos. This is the duos mantra together and as individuals, along with their scrupulous eye for detail, form and light. Each individual work stands forever meld together as one; a shared eye from these two very different, very talented artists.
The Hilton Brothers (2004) a Makos+Solberg conception is derived from the 1930‘s Siamese-twins vaudeville stars, the Hilton Sisters. These visual storytellers explore the freedom and parameters of collaboration, a shared language spoken through their pictures and collage. Blurring and fusing two disparate styles, each of their collaborative works subtly commenting on the world today, or escaping from it, through their images around the globe. Their most notable works are in the series, “Speed” (2006), “Andy Dandy” (2007), and “Narrative” (2009) and “Conscience” (2007). They share numerous publications, such as Mistaken Identity (2009) and their opus, Tyrants + Lederhosen (2011). Their work has been exhibited internationally in museums and galleries, including La Casa Encendida (Madrid), Galerie Catherine Houard (Paris), Galerie Sho Contemporary Art (Tokyo), Christopher Henry Gallery (New York), Karl Hutter Fine Art (LA), and NSU Art Museum, and most recently Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. thehiltonbrothers.com
WE THE PEOPLE
Christopher Makos + Paul Solberg
WE THE PEOPLE is the most recent body of work from the collaborative duo, Makos and Solberg. After years in and out of China, they've witnessed the second eye open of the Sleeping Giant.
The duo observes the parallels and contradictions of American and Chinese culture, where the old world becomes new again and the new world confronts its adolescence. Makos and Solberg have spent years traveling through both countries; annually driving through the Great Outwest of North America, to train trips to Xi'an and Chengdu, Beijing to Shanghai. Along with their own photographs, they collected American and Chinese iconography, exploring the symbolism, myth, and parody of both cultures.
Spending an afternoon with a Colorado rancher or with farmers living along the Great Wall, the duo is drawn to the common thread of both cultures, with their camera as their sewing machine.
Warhol famously chose Mao as a subject matter after his impressions from Mao's "Little Red Book". Like many Chinese artists of the 1970's and 80's, Ai Weiwei responded to the populist nature of Warhol's work, with the Warhol Diaries as the first window into the world of popular western art.
Chinese artists saw Warhol as a liberating figure, and freely borrowed from American art to find their new Post-Mao-global voice. Ai Weiwei effectively drew from the visual vocabulary of western pop art to remark on social issues in China.
Makos and Solberg continue in this tradition of social commentary in WE THE PEOPLE. They explore the old world's confrontation with the new. Who they are and who they were? Technology confronts culture. Distance measured in bandwidth instead of miles. Automation replaces man while man struggles with its post-automation-identity.
Through their pictures, Chris and Paul propose questions of progress, colonization, patriotism, and climate. While the new American Cowboy struggles with identity in an automated world, the bravado of a new Cowboy is heard across the Pacific, as the middle class shrink in the west, while the other spills into Africa. Both cultures, while occasional victims of self-satisfaction, maintain a defiant optimistic spirit.
CREATING ANDY DANDY
The Hilton Brothers latest collaboration, ANDY DANDY, is a portfolio of 20 digital pigment prints. All are diptychs that combine images from Makos "Altered Image" portraits of Andy Warhol with flower images from Solberg's "Bloom" series.
The images of Andy Warhol in "Andy Dandy" are the result of a 1981 collaboration between Makos and Warhol called "Altered Image", through which the photographer and his subject used unexpected combinations of simple elements to explore Identity, as did Man Ray (Makos' mentor) and Duchamp decades earlier. Warhol slightly altered his appearance with make-up and a wig, otherwise remaining in his street clothes. It was all the outward change Warhol felt he needed. Andy said, "I'm not trying to look beautiful like Elizabeth Taylor, I'm trying to show what it feels like to be beautiful like Elizabeth Taylor."
Solberg undertook his study of flowers as an exercise in using light to reveal the elemental purity of a subject otherwise encumbered by overexposure and banality, resulting in sensitive portraits rather than still life images. Like the "Altered Image" photos, many of Solberg's flowers are isolated subjects against a white background. This common white ground in the ANDY DANDY diptychs brings the disparate images into balance. ANDY DANDY considers the rich association between Andy Warhol and flowers by creating a beautiful and intriguing dialogue between Makos' and Solberg's work.
Andy wasn't the kind of dandy to wear a flower in his lapel, but as ANDY DANDY demonstrates, sometimes by just altering the image of one's work or oneself, a new beauty blooms.
Peter Wise NYC 2April, 2008