SOME of James Hillier’s earliest memories are of obsessively drawing iconic Disney villains like The Little Mermaid’s Ursula.

The 28-year-old Brisbane artist says he was never much for sports but found drawing was an escape.

 “I was teased a fair bit – when bullies offered to stop coming for me in exchange for drawings, I figured I must’ve been half decent,” he tells the Star Observer.

Hillier’s work has now caught the attention of gay people all over the world, and his popular Muriel’s Wedding series is set to feature in his first exhibition called Time Of Your Life in Brisbane.

Muriel’s Wedding is an Aussie classic, but the response to my series globally has been amazing – I didn’t realise it had such an international cult following. I’m so excited people like my stuff,” he says.

“I’m very excited (about the show) but also slightly terrified. I had somewhat of a quarter life crisis last year. I got far too busy adulting and less time re-connecting with the things that actually brought me joy.

“It took a bit of a breakdown and some time away from reality to recover, and rediscover the joy and the discipline that creating art gives me. It only took my life falling to pieces for me to remember all the things I missed about creating art. I’ve thrown myself back into it head-on since, and am loving where it’s taking me.”

Describing Muriel’s Wedding as his favourite movie, Hillier believes the film resonates with queer people because they often identify with Muriel’s life experiences, like being bullied, humiliated and rejected.

“She harbours these strongly misplaced aspirations influenced by classic Australian gender roles where notions of success come at the expense of honesty, integrity and self-acceptance,” he says.

“Her desperate attempts to be accepted in a world that is fundamentally pitted against her strike a deep chord.

“I was raised in quite a conservative religious environment, where I was led to believe that, as a queer person, I was inherently broken, a deviant. This was so damaging. It led to many dark, painful years and became a breeding ground for a host of mental health issues.

“After finally coming out, leaving my own Porpoise Spit was deeply necessary, and so liberating. It takes the duration of the film for her to finally reach this moment of authenticity and self-actualisation. I’m obsessed with the ending of this film where it all comes full circle. The looks exchanged between Rhonda and Muriel as they flee their small home town and scream outside the taxi window… you can’t help but smile like a fool. The close bond they share eclipses any heterosexual marriage displayed in the film, and I think that speaks to the power of community that becomes so important to queer people – especially queer youth.”

After ditching pencil sketches, Hillier recently embraced pointillism – creating illustrations using tiny ink dots with fine liner pens. Each artwork takes up to 100 hours to bring it to life.

“I think I’ll definitely be in the market for a bionic hand transplant one day,” he says.

“The permanency of this medium was initially confronting, but as a lefty, I’m thankful to be done with awkward graphite smudges.”

Check out Hillier’s debut exhibition Time Of Your Life at This Must Be The Place in Brisbane from July 15 to August 12.

Muriel’s Wedding star Gabby Millgate will make an appearance.

Prints of Hillier’s pieces will be available at the show, as well as from his popular online store.

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