Jamie Martinez: Congratulations on winning the open call for “Natural Selection” at Galerie Protégé. Can you tell us about your background in the arts and how you ended up being an artist in New York?
Jacob Hicks: Thank you, it was an honor and excitement to show with a great group of artists. I started out drawing and painting at a very early age, 10 or so. It’s a little disconcerting to think of the years that have built up to the present-I’m currently 32, a full-time art assistant in Brooklyn, and still drawing and painting. I was born and raised in Texas, and after undergrad in Dallas, I knew I needed to find a more liberally minded and open cultural center to foster my practice. I applied to many NYC grad programs and went to where I was accepted and here I remain. I couldn’t be more happy to be making a living off of art in one of the major places to do it.
JM: Can you talk about your process?
JH: My process initially is very structurally driven. It takes about an hour at the beginning of each painting session to pre-mix my palette, and within this time I really ponder what it is I’m trying to capture. I don’t use solvents or thinners and only thicken with oil; this extends drying time but is more environmentally/personally healthy and ensures fat over lean for every subsequent layer-I always fear paint cracking.
A painting session takes about eight hours of focus, and this is quiet time between myself and the surface. I move from an imprematura in earth pigments (burnt umber, maybe a venetian red or a brown-pink) in the initial days of a piece to a full palette (that changes when I discover a new color I love and have enough money to buy). I like to think I work pretty traditionally but am lax with pre-composing my images. Forms are constantly changing, new objects grow or old ones are edited, so the drawing is always open and my imagination is in flux, never really happy with the image I thought I solidified the day before. When the image settles my imagination I know the painting is done.
JM: It seems like a very organic painting process. When I came to your Brooklyn studio, you mentioned that you will pick a face that speaks to you. Can you elaborate on that?
JH: Here is a little background information to help me answer your question. My work has always addressed these things: history, humanism, beauty, archetype, mythology, and the subconscious-the individual’s personal link to our collective mythos. Right now I am focusing on the female as a way to embody these interests. My portrait project began as a reaction against the current enraging state of the American hegemony. I was raised by my mother, and so the oppression of women has always been within my awareness.
I am looking to create images of women as strong, radiant, dignified individuals, not objectified but celebrated. I don’t want to paint portraits of living people because they are too linked to the individual, rather I strive to paint the archetype of power, respect, dignity- not culturally or racially specific models but ones that can speak across divides. To find these prototypes I delve through early photography and painting. I scan compositions and mostly I am drawn to Primitive Flemish and Italian Renaissance masters. A magic happens when a new life blooms on my surface. I am not looking to repaint a source, a time-specific image will destroy my intentions. Like a sculptor, I whittle away with my paintbrush at a block until a new life, one that my spirit recognizes, emerges. I then drape her in imagined decorations that speak to a futuristic pluralism and unity, one where women are not objectified but celebrated for their embedded holiness, where beauty and aesthetic clarity is celebrated like I imagine it was during classism.
JM: I also saw different work that was a lot more expressionistic when I visited your studio. I am talking about the smaller paintings that were on the opposite side. What are you exploring in that series?
JH: That series is a different side of the same coin. Rather than searching only for a pristine embodiment of the heroic female type, I am looking for pathos, and so the work ends up with a modernist, energetic expressionism. I suppose the most poignant difference is a broadening of female persona to include darker, angrier energy, a reaction to oppression.
JM: Who are some of your influences?
JH: Long dead masters- Jan Van Eyck, Rogier Van Der Weyden, Bronzino, Giulio Romano, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Carlos Crivelli, Titian, El Greco. My modernist brethren are Umberto Boccioni, Diego Rivera in his cubist period, Picasso, Degas. In terms of contemporaries- Karry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Aleah Chapin, Vincent Desiderio.
JM: What is your relationship with color?
JH: It is fundamental to everything. Color has to have an internal balance and cohesion, and when this is reached the composition succeeds. I am after beauty in my work, and balanced color is fundamental to beauty in painting.
I am very drawn to amphibians/frogs because of the intensity and range of color they display; observations of the extremities of nature’s color palette liberated me from an early age to play with color. Moogoo, my Golden Poison Dart Frog, says hello!
JM: You have the coolest amphibians/frogs in NY. I love Moogoo, which you said is supposed to be poisonous in the wild. Tell us about your studio pets.
JH: Moogoo is a two-year-old Dendrobates Terribilis, which is literally the most poisonous animal on planet Earth in the wild. In the wild is the catch, her toxin is derived from an alkaloid in particular ants she consumes in nature, so without the ants, she is non-toxic. Moogoo is on a steady diet of non-poisonous PetLand crickets. The species lives in packs of up to 16 members for an average of 20 years. Both males and females chirp to communicate, they parent their young through metamorphosis rearing and feeding them, behavior we typically associate with mammalians. They are intelligent. They are known to recognize different human faces. Nature is spectacularly complicated and beautiful at all scales and in her many forms. I also have Golden Tree Frogs, but I will save their description for another time.
JM: What is next for Jacob and do you have any shows coming up or any new projects you would like to share?
JH: I am moving to RedHook, Brooklyn in November and am planning to take part in their open studio weekend. I’m always in the process of applying to open calls and writing for my platform, quantumartreview.com. I am also busy on my current portrait project.