Ernest Dempsey — Robert Hickland’s life has been about love and art, or love with art, we may say. Growing up in Florida and finding a career in painting in Los Angeles, Hickland came to trust vision that came from inside, making life a rich experience in a non-material sense. Recently, he published his first book American Dreaming which tells the story of his life’s adventure through romance, marriage and fatherhood besides his profession of choice that brought him coloring some of the most famous film stars in the world. Robert, who is also the brother of singer and soap star Catherine Hickland, had a fresh interview with the Journal of Humanitarian affairs, as follows.
Ernest: Hi Robert, it’s a pleasure to have you for an interview at GHN. Please tell us a little about your growing experience in America and some of your childhood fascinations?
Robert: I shared part of my childhood with my two sisters, but I was separated from them and my parents at 10 years old. I believe, due to that trauma, my memory begins at right about that age. I grew up in the yet-to-be developed tropical landscape of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Beautiful sky, the Atlantic Ocean, and the extraordinary quality of light. I was fascinated by the hurricanes, the sheer force of them, and how they churned the ocean and rearranged the topography. My fondest memories are of the exhilaration and freedom of flying through the waterways with my speedboat at an age much too young. I did not have any rules or much supervision, so much of my memories consist of looking out for myself. I started driving cars at 14.
Ernest: What was your biggest dream and how did you take to its pursuit?
Robert: I didn’t really have “a dream”. It seemed like every day I woke up, a dream would begin, just to survive and navigate to the next day. There is a saying, “If we are close to our angels, the dream world and the waking world will not be far apart.” Eventually, I chose the profession of hair colorist. At that point, I had already had a fine arts background, so I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles to pursue my trade in a larger-than-life way. It was a perfect choice, as it allowed me independence and artistic freedom. I had no childhood heroes, but when it came to cowboys and Indians, I always wanted to be the Indian. Also, and importantly, I had mysteriously lost part of my vision as a child. I later gained it back. The appreciation of being able to see again was probably pivotal in my view of life.
Ernest: When and how did you have your “boy meets girl” experience?
Robert: There was this girl a few neighborhoods away from where I lived. I thought she was so pretty, and she had a bad reputation. I had just turned 14, she was 17. I borrowed a car, picked her up, and had a big night. I was never quite the same after that. We tried to carry on for a while, but her brothers, the neighborhood kids, and our age difference made it impossible. I longed for more.
Ernest: Did you feel at any point then that a romantic relationship is taking most of your energy or draining you of the passion you had for achieving your dream profession?
Robert: I have always felt more passion for a person, or a relationship than for a profession. A profession is a way to make a living. A romance is a way to really feel life fully.
Ernest: Have there been any major shifts in your taste in art or general involvement with music and other forms of entertainment while you were in Hollywood?
Robert: Even though I make paintings, I hardly ever go look at art in galleries. I’m not into any “art scene”. I only paint to express myself. I have a nice studio to paint in. I’m a lucky man. I live a relatively quiet life now. I have an assortment of instruments in my studio. I had an experimental musical trio for 3 years. Much of our music sounded like movie soundtracks.
Ernest: How often have you collaborated with Catharine in creating or performing music?
Robert: I love both my sisters very much. Although Catherine and I have shared much of our lives together, we have never collaborated on anything artistically. One of the highlights of my life was watching her perform the role of Fantine in Les Miserables on Broadway. I sat in the front row and cried me a river.
Ernest: So when was it that you first thought of writing a book?
Robert: I always used words in my paintings. Maybe that was the seed of the fruit to come. I always thought it would be too difficult to write a book. I wrote the stories in my own voice, just as I would speak. Then I had to piece them together. I really enjoyed the process.
Ernest: Tell us a little about American Dreaming? How long it took you to complete it and what are the main elements of interest for general readers in your book?
Robert: I have writers and other people in show business as my hair color clientele. I would tell them some of my stories during our conversations. One writer said, “You have a book there in these stories. Write them down.” So, I did. I wrote American Dreaming in the quiet back room of the Beverly Hills Public Library. It took 2 1/2 years to write. Some readers said that it felt like they were dreaming it as they read. That’s where the title comes from. “Did that really happen?” they would ask.
Ernest: How do you see today’s Hollywood? What has changed most prominently and whether for better or worse?
Robert: Hollywood was almost provincial when I arrived in the late 1970s. The digital age has changed everything. There are (almost) no more record and bookstores. Films have become more violent. I think that speaks for itself. This will always be a company town, so film and music will always thrive, as will the live music scene all over Los Angeles. It’s a very vibrant place to live.
Ernest: What is your current most attractive interest?
Robert: This fall I am working on a special one-night gallery show. There will be my paintings that are featured in my book, and some famous person reading a few passages, as well. I might do a live sound-collage piece. Should I ask my sister to sing? I’ve also begun to write another book.
Ernest: Robert, thank you so much for taking your precious time for this correspondence. We hope to continue seeing more of your work in near future.
Robert: It was my pleasure. Thank you.
~ ~ ~
Readers may follow Robert’s career through his website http://www.roberthicklandart.com/.