Hirotton is an artist heavily influenced by DIY aspect of hardcore punk. From his first piece to HAILPRINTS, we look back on his career that started in London.
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Archive photos courtesy of Hirotton
VHSMAG (V)： You started skating in your hometown Shizuoka and moved out to Osaka and live there for a while, right?
Hirotton (H)： Yeah, I graduated from high school and moved there to go to Osaka University of Arts. I was welding furnitures and sculptures there but I decided to save money and move to London. I was skating with Chopper and others at Triangle Park and Fos from Heroin would come visit a lot. I got to know him and started thinking about moving there because I like punk too. I wanted to do something creative in London but I didn't have the environment to weld... And then Fos and other skaters around Heroin were all painting, so I thought I'd give it a try.
V： What was the first piece you made?
H： The first one was a huge turtle I painted on my bedroom wall in London. I've always loved drawing. I also went to a school where you learn how to draw before taking exam for the university. I was in London from 2008 to 2012.
V： Who were your influences?
H： I was always into hardcore punk and I loved Crass. They also lived in London so I'd go visit them. I was influenced by their artwork, social message, ideas toward animal rights and environmental issues. They were a huge influence. And then I was hanging with Heroin guys so Fos was a big thing for me. I've always wanted to do board graphics too.
V： What about your personal project PARADOX?
H： I had started PARADOX when I was in Osaka. I wasn't drawing yet but I was printing black and white photos on T-shirts. It wasn't a brand but it was my personal project. After I started drawing, I printed them on T-shirts and had the name PARADOX on it. I didn't really want to print my name Hirotton, so I just used PARADOX.
V： Four years in London must have been an important period in your life. What did you learn while you were there?
H： It broadened my horizons. After I learned how to speak English to a certain degree, I got to connect with a lot of people. Art and skate community, you can go really far if you can speak English. Nothing could've happened without my time in London. It was a huge thing that I got to see different culture. I got to speak with the Crass members. You know, all the things they were thinking about back then along with their current philosophy. I got to really reflect on myself in the deepest way... During the four years, I got to know what I really liked, where I stood, and what I really want to do. I got to really think about that stuff.
V： So your vision got super clear in London.
H： I've always liked creative things but I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do. I wasn't concerned about my future.
V： You met BB Bastidas in London, right? He was saying that you were wearing a trench coat the first time you guys met.
H： Well, he was saying that I was a weirdo with a trench coat, but I was wearing a mods coat. I don't even have a trench coat (laughs). BB is in NY and we still get in touch.
V： So he had a wrong memory (laughs). So you said you were into welding at first. How did your style transition to what you do today?
H： The idea of hardcore punk is at my core so basically animal rights and environment issues... also political and racial issues as well. I had been discriminated in London and I started to think about how Japanese people are viewed from the outside. Those kind of things became the theme back then. The things I experienced at the moment in time... theme changes depending on where you are. Recently I try to focus more on the technique, color, size... more focused on details and skill. I respect people who stick to the same style but I like watching people who try something new and evolve with time, so I want to always challenge different styles.
V： Do you remember when you thought to yourself, "I'm gonna make a living with art."
H： I had an art show at a space in Nakameguro in 2015. This guy name Enzo helped me out and made a 3D version of a hut that I used to always draw. You can actually go inside it. I filled all the walls with my painting, inside and outside. It took days and I had to spend so much time at the space so I decided to quit the job I had back then. That's when I decided to make a living with my art. I guess that was my tipping point. The art show went well and I got a coverage in a magazine; that connected me with a lot of people. I think around the same time Heroin used my artwork for the first time.
V： That's your first board graphics, right?
H： I wanted my first board graphics to be for Heroin. I was drawing everyday after I came back to Japan and had my first Tokyo show at NO.12 GALLERY. It went pretty well and I eventually gained confidence. I thought I could make one of my dreams come true, which was to do a board graphics for Heroin. So I sent my artwork along with a long email to Fos and then he replied, "Thank you, I checked your artwork. But your artwork is too influenced by other artists. It's not a bad thing but you should keep drawing. Find your own style." Then he continued, "It took me years to find my style. I know you're serious about this but we are too with Heroin. I just can't use your art just because we're friends. I look forward to your growth. I will make an offer to you when the time comes." I really thanked him for being straight with me like that. So I kept drawing and did several shows, then Fos contacted me in 2016 and asked me to work on a board. I got so hyped. Like, everything happened for a reason. Fos liked my artwork and I heard it sold pretty well. From there I got to do it every season and I worked on a series here and there. He still let me work on their boards.
V： That's awesome. For Heroin, you knew Fos, but you've done Foundation and Toy Machine too. How did those happen?
H： BB Bastidas was doing boards for brands like Baker. We're the same age and we both like each other's art, so we clicked and did an art show in his hometown Oceanside. I met Riley Hawk, Cole Wilson, Colin Provost and Rowan Zorilla, and we skated and had drinks together. They came to our show and I had just worked on a mural there. They liked it, and they asked me to work on their boards. So for Foundation and Toy Machine, I connected with them through their riders. As for Colin, I painted on his private park and his van.
V： Which brands have you worked with so far?
H： Heroin, Vagrant, Foundation, Toy Machine...
V： You've done Bumbag as well.
H： Yeah, Bumbag's Oceanside. I've done Psockadelic. I was visiting Oceanside every year so I have a lot of friends there.
V： Which skate-related piece is your favorite?
H： Heroin's first one for sure, because of what I said earlier. As for Toy Machine, I was stoked to exchange emails with Ed Templeton. I've always respected him as an artist... I got to discuss design with him and I was stoked when he accepted my work. You know, I was blown away when he told me that he's going to use my artwork for the next series. He meant way more than all the celebrities that people admire.
V： Yeah, I know what you mean. So you decided to go with art in 2015 and you have been pursuing your career since, with DIY mentality. What's the thing with DIY?
H： For me, DIY had always been there. Maybe it's because Chopper was around when I got out of high school, but I was making T-shirts. I came back from London and made an exposure machine by myself and made an environment where I could make my own T-shirts. I used to sell them and... it was so natural that it never felt like a hard time. That was what I wanted to do, so I wanted to do things by myself rather than having others do it for me. Even if I don't have time to rest, it's something I want to do so it doesn't hurt me at all.
V： You're also doing a screen print studio called HAILPRINTS. How did that come about?
H： I came back from London and I was printing T-shirts at home, and then I met Mako, my partner at HAILPRINTS, through skating after I started living in Tokyo. Mako got interested in screen printing and he'd ask me how to make exposure machine. That's how he got really into it. Then one day, he told me that there's a place we can open a screen print studio. I was down for sure... That was January of 2018 and things went smooth that we opened the place in August. Then I joined him the next month.
V： So you guys have been working together ever since.
H： People in bands, skaters, photographers, painters, models, filmmakers, brand owners... We have all these creative people around us. We want to be able to make stuff with them, you know? Then do our own collaborations and get our style out there as well. That's DIY. We were like, "It'd be rad if we could build a commune like Crass."
V： Who have you worked with so far at HAILPRINTS?
H： Chaos Fishing Club, Radiall, MxMxM… ESOW and Kawa. Bern, Sabre, Bashi Burger Chance... Possessed, Clumsy, Time Scan, Trash Breed Trash, Golden Age, Diskah, Satanic Carnival. We've done staff tee for Mika Ninagawa's film. It's mainly the brands that I provide artwork for, and also my friends' bands and bars.
V： You've been screen printing for a long time. What's the best thing about it?
H： Printing every shirt by yourself. It's not automated and each shirt looks a bit different by the way you print it, so it's hard. We fuck up here and there. But that's what we like doing, printing with our own hands. Also I want to print my own artwork.
V： Any principles that you stick to?
H： We never come up with something that we're not proud of. We value time to have meetings so we like to exchange ideas. We're not an operator, we want to feel more connected to our clients. That way I can use all the DIY experiences there. If we were to do something, we don't want to be some random company guy. I want it to be the extension of our DIY project. My PARADOX T-shirt evolved a lot with HAILPRINTS. I get to print many colors neatly and the quality of the paint and print is getting better and better.
V： What do you want to do with HAILPRINTS in the future?
H： We want to concentrate more on artist collaborations. It's a project where we're using our original body T-shirt and collaborate with artists we're connected and respect. The first one was my logo and the second one is with ESOW. One of my friends Rob makes promo video. The next one coming up is with USUGROW and it'll be available soon. We'd like to keep working on this project. I mean, we have people that have mutual respect so why not make something that only we can make? We worked so hard to come up with our original T-shirt. We make our own T-shirt and print on it, which leads to more DIY style. We're able to make stuff happen. It'd be rad to have an original hoodie and other stuff in the near future too.
V： You've also worked on a big piece for Vans Harajuku Store.
H： I got the offer from Vans Japan and Hidden. I've loved Vans since high school days so it's rewarding and I was stoked with the fact that they offered me. The skater on that piece is Ray Barbee. I love Vans and Ray Barbee so it was easy to come up with the image and I felt adrenalin flowing as I worked on it. I had the image of what it was going to be like at the meeting and we decided to use a big canvas, so we needed a frame. I didn't want to use a normal frame so I asked my skater friend at SLAM STONE BUILT. He makes frame with concrete. It came out really nice.
V： For sure, that parking block frame was sick.
H： Yeah, he made it super nice and new, but at the end he put wax on it and grinded it with a truck. So it looks real, he grinded mainly on the edge... pretty insane, right (laughs)? I really like that kind of dedication. I can relate to that and I can feel the love, which gets me stoked. SLAM STONE BUILT. and JAM Framing Service in Chiba is not just a frame company, they're artists. They're professional frame makers and have the right skills, but they have their distinct style. I can feel the dedication. It's similar to skating. I like to bounce ideas and work together rather than having big companies do everything for you. That's what HAILPRINTS is all about.
V： I dig that attitude. Thanks for the design for VHSMAG collab tee too. It looks awesome.
H： Since it's a collab with VHSMAG, I wanted to use VHS tape in the artwork. I wanted to let people know that VHS tape, art and skating are all something very close to you. I personally like video tape and cassette more than DVD and CD. I like the detailed design of the VHS video cover and I simply like the looks and the color. You know, playing cards too, you can probably play online but I like how you actually hand over cards to people as you chat. I like the good old analog feel. The reason why the TV is broken in the artwork is because I don't like TV (laughs).
V： So what's next for you?
H： So for HAILPRINTS, we're planning to do more artist collaborations and hoping to do posters and boards some day. Along with that, I want to challenge more internationally with my art and do more board graphics. I want to try new things so maybe 3D and new materials... collaboration with brands and bigger companies. I want to surprise people in a good way. A lot is in the works and I have some special project that I can't talk about yet. I just want to extend my field with wider perspective.
Born in 1986, originally from Shizuoka. Hirotton has done board graphics for skate brands like Heroin, Foundation and Toy Machine to name a few. He currently runs screen printing studio HAILPRINTS along with his art project.