Nathan Hilu: a soldier, an artist
Born in 1925 on New York’s Lower East Side, Manhattan, Nathan Hilu (d. April 19, 2019) was a soldier, artist and storyteller who referred to himself as an “illustrator of life.” He served in the U.S. Army during WWII, the Korean War and the Cold War, first as a prison guard at Nuremberg, then throughout Europe and ultimately in Tokyo, Japan where he was attached to the Counter Intelligence Corps.
Hilu began his artistic endeavors in Japan where he provided illustrations for children’s books. Following his service, Hilu returned to New York, where he worked for Bookazine, the owner of which introduced him to art-book publisher, Harry N. Abrams, who provided Hilu with art supplies and introduced him to the works of Chagall, Van Gogh, Gaugin and Dali. Like Chagall, Hilu’s illustrations of life focused on his visual memory and brought energy to the themes that personally motivated him during his more than four decades as an artist.
Hilu’s artistic style has been described as “outsider art” and “art brut” and has been said to have a “surrealist sensibility” combining “passionate and frantic drawings” and “adding collage and writing to share his inner views of events, real and experienced, as well as biblical, legendary, and historical.”
The AJA is honored to preserve nineteen binders of drawings—his artistic ‘memoir’—of his service in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean War.