Portrait of the Artist

Hiroshi Sato

Small Town Intrigue

By Noelani Kirschner | June 12, 2017
New Mexico, 2017, oil on canvas, 36 X 44 inches
New Mexico, 2017, oil on canvas, 36 X 44 inches


Hiroshi Sato is a painter living in San Francisco. Born in Japan, he grew up in Tanzania before coming to the United States for college. He often paints people but has recently become interested in landscapes.

“I never could make a successful painting of a landscape. It wasn’t that I couldn’t technically do it; I could just never make a landscape painting that shows what I wanted to show. It always ended up being very generic, like ‘I’m standing at the side of the road and I’m looking at a building’ or ‘I’m looking at trees.’ I wasn’t interested in that kind of painting. I was struggling to find an imperative motivation to make a landscape painting. I’d prefer if it’s not just an aesthetic thing. It has to have a story behind it.

In all of my paintings, I’ve always been interested in psychology and human perception. Perception is what I’m focusing on the most; it’s the doorway to your internal world from your external world. I’m interested in how those two interact and how they feed into each other, which is perception itself. This is no indication of how successful I am in terms of my painting, but I like the literature of Jorge Luis Borges and Haruki Murakami, that kind of metafiction and surrealism. That’s what I want to figure out how to do in a landscape painting.

New Mexico is a view from a trailer park looking to a bunch of houses. A friend had invited me to go with him to his hometown in Deming, New Mexico. It’s the small town where he grew up, and it was interesting to be an observer as he revisits his home. Deming is near the border, in the middle of the desert. It sounds terrible, but there was something in the air. It’s not like it was depressing or too hot, or anything. There’s history there—a sense of the past of the Native Americans who used to live there. It’s a huge backdrop that lets your mind imagine a lot of things: secret military bases, border patrols, cameras everywhere. It’s like watching Twin Peaks—it’s a normal town, but there’s so much intrigue there. It lets your mind go places.”

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