Skip Ahead

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Skip Ahead

By Tim Farley

Skip Hill has traveled the world as a vagabond artist creating works with broad appeal, but unlike other greats he makes his home in Oklahoma City which is hardly an art mecca.

Hill, 53, knows he could make more money and sell more art in New York City, Atlanta or Chicago, but the Sooner state is his home. It’s where his family and friends live. Still, he hasn’t buried his head in the sand.

“Once I really focused on my art, I realized I had to get my art outside Oklahoma. I still live here, but I would go to Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta art shows. It wasn’t that (Oklahoma) people didn’t love it, but they weren’t buying it,” he said, with some reflection on the past.

However, Hill created a niche for himself by using his unique story as a black male artist in predominantly white, Republican Oklahoma to sell himself and the state.

“To others (outside Oklahoma), that’s a rare thing,” he said, puffing on a stogie. “I took what could be a liability of being an Oklahoma artist and turned it into being an ambassador for Oklahoma. I like being a big fish in a small pond. I know I could have been successful in New York, but it would have been a larger pond with bigger sharks. Here, I’ve developed my own identity and I can reach out to other places.”

His reach and art has extended to many countries including Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil. Coincidentally, one of his favorite pieces, “The Dream Saver,” hangs at the Oklahoma State Capitol as part of the Oklahoma State Arts Collection.

“I get calls all the time from around the world. People say, ‘I like your work. Where can I see more?’ That’s when I direct them to my online portfolios. My vision for my art was bigger, I think, because of all the traveling I did earlier in life. But it was a practical decision to be a viable artist here in Oklahoma knowing full well that I had a bigger audience beyond this state.”

So, the question often asked is what attracts art collectors and buyers to Hill’s work? The answer is simple. Hill focuses more on storytelling and less on concepts. Since he was a student in elementary school, Hill was inspired by cartoons so his contemporary work is illustrative with loopy and cartoon-like impressions. It’s also driven by color, mood, shapes, emotion and a touch of “smartass irony.”

“It’s a loose style guided by a story which often involves women”, Hill said, with a smile. “My work transcends age and cultures and it appeals to a broad range of people. I love finding the beauty in all cultures and bringing them together in one place if only for a moment.”

A different breed

Sporting dreadlocks, a slender physique and a young, hipster attitude, Hill doesn’t portray the typical artist’s lifestyle. He’s not long suffering or poor. He’s doesn’t want to be famous or have his art sell for millions after his death. He wants it in the here and now. Hill, once a cartoonist for the Oklahoma City University student newspaper while in college, isn’t a tragic art figure entangled in his own self-loathing. He’s upbeat, funny, enjoys an occasional stiff drink, a good cigar and is enthusiastic about life.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

“I bought into the art myth that shows a guy with a little beret and struggling,” he said. “But now and for several years I see art as a gateway to making new friends and having relationships.”

Unlike some artists, Hill finds no shame in creating a commercial brand by expanding his talents to wristbands and t-shirts.

“My ambition is still the same as it was at 12 years old. Do my art, impact people with it and make a lot of money. The only shame comes from within the art world, the critics. The critic has to have his sovereignty so he can tell you what works and doesn’t.”

Turning a profit isn’t anything new for Hill. During his fifth grade school year, young Skip found a way to take other students’ milk and lunch money without being a bully. He drew comic books featuring their favorite super hero. He took their orders on Monday and by the end of the week he was hauling in the loot.

But for Hill, his current heroes are the same as they were back in fifth grade, including Peter Max and LeRoy Neiman, of Playboy fame.

“I wasn’t going to pick up Playboy without looking at the cartoons and illustrations,” he said, with a wink.

Full circle

After college, Hill took off to travel the world in places like Thailand and The Netherlands. He stayed in both countries for several years, worked on his art, but never found himself until his return to Oklahoma. Upon his arrival in Oklahoma, his intention was to stay two weeks. That was 31 years ago.

Since that time, Hill has played a major role in art education with workshops and residencies in public and private schools. In addition, he’s produced murals in a plethora of Oklahoma schools.

“It feels like I’ve come full circle when I think of doing those political cartoons at OCU so many years ago,” he said.

For now and the foreseeable future, Hill is a happy camper.

“I love where I’m at right now simply because I choose gratitude. I’m grateful for everything I have,” he said. “I’m in a good place with my art.”

Hill can be reached at or skiphill@jux. He also has the Facebook page Skip Hill Art.

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