Steve Hicks: Sparring shape and line

Steve Hicks, In Flesh, diptych acrylic on canvas, 16 x 24 inches

Contributed by Carol Diamond / Steve Hicks’s oil and acrylic canvases exude confidence and exuberance, like a teenager sporting a new outfit and venturing out to face the world. I’ve got this, the paintings seem to say. Hicks’s shapes and lines, his layers and hues, impart a robust, jaunty sense of speed and physicality. For all its boldness and energy, though, the work, on view at George Billis through January 11, also offers tonality and depth.

Steve Hicks, Insomnia, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 40 inches

The oil-on-canvas diptych Insomnia, for example, presents golds and amber offsetting hot reds, warm greens, and deep blues, punctuated by Hicks’s strong gestural line. Bright shapes invert into dark ones, which in turn give way again to lighter ones. This approach allows a surprisingly deep space to unfold while anchoring the piece firmly to the picture plane. Clear shapes spar with amorphous splatters, reflecting the tension between discipline and liberation artists invariably face. In his artist statement, Hicks himself acknowledges “dichotomies such as intention vs. accident, geometry vs. gesture, the essential vs. the arbitrary or theory vs. mess,” noting that “an artist must be simultaneously willful and open.”

Steve Hicks, Queen Takes Queen, (diptych) oil on canvas, 40 x 68 inches

While informed by the spirit of de Kooning and Gorky – who themselves wrestled with conflicting influences – Hicks’s canvases are also reminiscent of Japanese ink painting, graffiti, other forms suggesting verbal language. You can feel an intuitively familiar syntax at play: tangled arcing lines, saturated color planes, transparencies, curves, and zigzags symbolize tongue-twisters and alliterations in what the gallery’s press release states calls “an evolving abstract narrative.”

Before turning to abstraction, Hicks painted urban landscapes and other subjects from direct observation for decades, and he did it well. The shift from empirical painting into abstract studio-based work, however, has afforded him greater freedom and imagination and consequently wider aesthetic exploration. The culmination is this fine show.

Steve Hicks: Fabrications,” George Billis New York, 521 W. 26 St., 7th Floor (temporary location). Through January 11, 2020. Also on view: Paintings by  Yongjae Kim and Al Peters. Ceramics by Marlene Krumm-Sanders.

About the Author: Carol Diamond is an artist an educator who lives and works in New York City. She’s a tenured Associate Professor at Pratt Institute, teaches at City College of Technology, and has had two recent solo exhibitions: at Kent State University in Ohio and The Painting Center.

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