From pin-ups to pup­pets

Greg Hilde­brandt’s new se­ries of creepy ven­tril­o­quist pup­pet por­traits is a change of di­rec­tion and laments the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of child­hood

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Greg Hilde­brandt, along with his late brother, Tim, made a name for them­selves pro­duc­ing Star Wars and Lord of the Rings art dur­ing the 1970s. More re­cently, Greg painted a se­ries of cheese­cake pin-ups, en­ti­tled Amer­i­can Beau­ties which seem a far cry from his cur­rent pro­ject, Dark Dolls, a col­lec­tion of paint­ings with a rather dis­con­cert­ing sub­ject: creepy pup­pets.

Greg’s love of pup­pets be­gan with an an­i­mated pup­pet cir­cus that ran in­side the en­tire length of a bar­ber­shop. From there he de­vel­oped an ob­ses­sion and his pup­pet col­lec­tion has con­tin­ued to grow. Be­fore his 75th birth­day, Greg de­cided to be­gin a se­ries of art that rep­re­sented his child­hood.

He sees the past as “crum­bling” as he watched his pup­pets sit on his shelves for years, dry­ing out, crack­ing and de­cay­ing. To him it re­sem­bled the fragility of his child­hood and the city he grew up in, Detroit, which has turned from a friendly neigh­bour­hood to a “war zone.”

“We watch our past dis­ap­pear,” he laments. “As I paint my pup­pets I can freeze time and stop the de­cay. I guess I’m sav­ing a piece of my past.” Greg imag­ines his pup­pets com­ing to life at night: “They are real and so I paint them as if they are real. This, I be­lieve, is what makes them scary to most peo­ple. I’m not try­ing to make them scary. I’m paint­ing their por­traits.”

The artist doesn’t want to be known for “only one or two things” in his ca­reer. “I en­joy change in my art,” he says. “I love the idea there’s al­ways some­thing un­known and un­seen around the cor­ner. And I don’t want to know what it is un­til I get there.”

You can see more of Greg and Tim’s work at www.broth­er­shilde­brandt.com.

Greg’s ex­ten­sive fig­urine col­lec­tion: “In the 1930s and ’40s you could win these chalk fig­ures at car­ni­vals. They were knocked-out fig­ures made of plas­ter, spray-painted and cov­ered in glit­ter.”

For Greg, pup­pets rep­re­sent the past and specif­i­cally child­hood,

“crum­bling” on a shelf.

Above, one of two por­trait paint­ings of the dolls on this page (though they’re easily mis­taken for photos!)

Dark light­ing is im­por­tant in these paint­ings. At night

Greg sees them come alive on his

li­brary shelf.

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