Name: Gregory Hilton
Occupation: Artist; gregoryhilton.com
Likes: Japanese food
Dislikes: Dictators and demagogues
1. Where did you grow up? I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, which was dry, hot, windy, dusty and flat. I remember dust storms and tornados, rattlesnakes and country music playing on the radio.
2. Is there anything you miss about your hometown? I miss the Mexican food and barbecue. I miss red beans and cornbread. I miss chicken-fried steak with sawmill gravy.
3. What inspired you to become an artist? I’m really not sure. I think I was more encouraged by my mother and father when I started drawing at age 6. I remember the first thing I drew was an upside down number four, which I called a chair.
4. Have you since received any formal training in art? I studied painting, photography and art history at the University of North Texas. Upon graduating, I was invited to work as an etching assistant by an American artist who lived in Vienna. A year later I moved to London to study lithography.
5. When did you end up in New York City? In 1977, I studied printmaking at Robert Blackburn’s printmaking workshop and the Pratt Institute. Downtown Manhattan was a great place to be in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I ended up living there for 36 years.
6. Did you meet any notable artists from the 1980s downtown art scene? I used to drink Rolling Rocks at Fanelli’s Cafe with Jeff Koons every once in a while. Jack Whitten was a great friend of mine who recently passed away. He told me a lot of really funny jokes and was a big influence on my painting technique.
7. Jean-Michel Basquiat had also just started doing street art, right? I’m not sure if I ever met Jean-Michel. I remember seeing a lot of his artwork around — SAMO graffiti on the street before he had anything in the gallery. I saw him sleeping in the park and walking around SoHo a lot.
8. Did you ever run into Keith Haring? I met him at the Tony Shafarzi Gallery in SoHo. I have a drawing he did on the back of his book of a dog being pulled up into a flying saucer. He was doing those great black-and-white drawings in the subway and getting arrested. I remember people trying to steal them before they were torn down and destroyed. I still kick myself for seeing a big stack of them that had been taken down and were going to be thrown away by the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
9. So how did you end up with a show in Osaka in 1981? My wife, Machiko, who I met at Pratt, helped arrange it. After we got married, I brought a portfolio of my work from New York — etchings, mostly. I was very excited to come to Japan for the first time during cherry blossom season.
10. Did it go well? I sold out the show unexpectedly and received a big envelope full of cash. I spent it all taking the whole staff out to dinner and reciprocating gifts. I left Japan with no artwork and no money.
11. You’ve been in Osaka full time since 2014. Why? We moved to Osaka to take care of my mother-in-law, who was in bad health and suffering from dementia. She passed away recently.
12. What’s your favorite part of the city? Shinsekai and Den Den Town. I like to ride around on my bicycle and stop and take pictures of things that interest me, mostly eccentric characters and old architecture. I often photograph construction sites where they’re tearing down old houses.
13. Could you describe your most recent gallery show? It was at Lads Gallery in Osaka. I created drawings and paintings on paper using three Roomba and iRobot vacuum cleaners. It also included video and sculpture installations and paintings.
14. Which contemporary Japanese artists do you admire? Sadaharu Horio and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. I also like Ujino and Tomoo Gokita.
15. What are you currently reading? “Suttree” by Cormac McCarthy, “Masters of the Air” by Donald L. Miller and “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)” by David Sedaris.
16. Do you collect anything? I enjoy going to the monthly Shitennoji Flea Market. I collect things that speak to me like Buddhist temple bells, Buddhist statues, beautiful ceramics, old globes, maps, old books, toys, games, measuring devices and spherical objects. I also look for washi (Japanese paper).
17. What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently? “The Irishman” by Martin Scorsese.
18. Which artists would you like to have a drink with? Agnes Martin, Hieronymus Bosch, Olafur Eliasson and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
19. Who would play you in the biopic of your life? Leonardo DiCaprio, Buster Keaton or Fred Astaire.
20. What projects are you working on in 2020? I’m working on a collaboration with musician Jerry Gordon that includes a video installation of one of my electric paintings to be projected at his performance space.