I draw nearly every day - the time depends on what kind of drawing I’m doing. Drawing outside takes place during the day of course, but I also draw in the evenings. I draw wherever I go. Most of my drawing is done outdoors, but I also draw in the studio and at the kitchen table or wherever I happen to be.
Much of my drawing is observational and analytical, and I use traditional techniques that have been around since the Renaissance - I still find that kind of visual enquiry thrilling. I draw quite slowly, and typically a drawing will take between one and two-and-a-half hours as I try to understand several aspects of what I am looking at. I use fine-line pens and brush-pens a lot of the time, but also pencil, oil pastels, chalk and charcoal, depending on what seems most appropriate for a given subject. I also make larger or more experimental studio drawings in a range of media, which are informed but not constrained by my observational drawings.
I’ll draw anything I can see, but the subject I engage with most is landscape, rural or urban, which I try to portray in an unsentimental way. Often I will look for interactions between the natural and the artificial, or for evidence of change and human intervention in the environment. I’m also looking for interesting and unusual shapes, textures, contrasts and compositions. Often I will draw anything that catches my eye, just for the sake of drawing rather than any wider intention.
I draw because I need to - it is my way of engaging with the world and forming a relationship with things. It is meditation, enquiry, analysis, imaginative response and a feeling of freedom. On a practical level, I draw also to gather material that I can develop into paintings in the studio, so my sketchbooks are also an inventory of shapes, images, etc. which directly or indirectly feed into the more open-ended process of painting.
One of the biggest influences has been my son, Rae Hicks. Seeing his development as an artist from his earliest days has been an inspiration. There is a host of other artists who haunt my imagination as I work; most significant among these are: Picasso, for his endless invention and daring; Sutherland, for his imaginative re-creation of a specific landscape; Constable, for his marvellous oil sketches; Lanyon, for his painterly freedom and energy; and Morandi, for his quiet, revolutionary approach to representation.
The Age Of The Constructor And Destructor
Oil on canvas
138x112cm / 2020
The Activation Of The Patience
Oil on canvas
138x112cm / 2020
Oil on canvas
76x61cm / 2020
I paint in my studio. The light is good, blasting in from two large windows. The studio is partially filled with life-sized sculptures based on my two sons and myself. My paintings are from photographs that randomly upload on to my iPhone from the family cloud. So far I feel drawn towards images of my two sons and wife. The photos tend to be ones I have not taken myself. I am interested in images that have a certain type of light that highlights the body or face. There may be a certain haziness in the photo grain, an atmosphere. I am very interested in painting skin. The accumulation of colour that can be built up to form a skin surface into a torso, a leg, arm, or face I find fascinating and challenging.
The photograph is merely a starting point. I will sketch out the image onto the canvas in paint and try to get it to work. Over some time, it could be hours or days, I will work out if it is worth pursuing. If not I will abandon the image and paint over it. When I decide to commit to a painting, I will continue to refer to the photograph. Each day I'll notice different colours in the photograph, colours I didn’t see before. This is where it becomes more interesting. The canvas becomes crustier and thicker from the accumulation of layers. I don’t use grids and I don't illustrate. I prefer to fumble and allow the marks to feel their way onto the canvas without erasing their original moment of application. I try to let the paint be the main voice, then form, then image.
Due to my family commitments, I am not able to paint every day, especially during lockdown with home-schooling. Sometimes I find it a struggle to get going. I will keep looking at what I have already done to the canvas from the day or week before. I paint best in the early mornings. Once I get going, I don’t stop.
I don’t really know why I paint. It is an urge and desire that I can’t identify. When a painting is done and I can let it go, I feel the need to start another. Just the idea alone of painting something excites me, but the actual physical act of starting I find a struggle. Painting is hard. It is a constant battle against failure, with the unknown, and with myself. I guess I paint simply because it is something to do.
I have many influences. Life in general is a huge influence but if I were to narrow it down to painters, then I've been recently looking at Baselitz and Munch. I like their use of colour and brushwork. Munch has great narrative and Bazelitz’s figures are very sculptural. I also like Ingres’ work. I enjoy the fine detail in it, and his use of light. But when I’m painting I’m not thinking of other painters. I’m more conscious of picking up a brush and applying paint and being myself.
Crayon and water-based neo-crayon on newsprint
243x345cm / 2019
Wish You Were Here
Felt tips on brown paper
164x150cm / 2020
Crayon and water-based neo-crayon on brown paper
182x457cm / 2020
I draw wherever and whenever I can. I always carry a sketchbook in my bag and as a result I have piles of sketches of cafes, railway stations, people looking bored in meetings. I don’t have a studio. I was saving up to get a studio with a friend when the pandemic hit and that's put everything on hold.
I think that it is interesting that these three drawings were done in the last 8 months, each in a different locations, in different states of what was happening globally and personally. Funhouse was drawn in a corridor in my shared house. Drawing in a confined space meant it was hard to step back and see the work and there was frequent interruptions from flatmates. When I started the drawing I felt optimistic. It was election time and I thought there would be a new Labour government. I felt confident the Tories would be defeated and was looking forward to the prospect of a second referendum regarding Brexit. By the end of the drawing, things had not turned out this way. It was then I discovered that my father had cancer. I feel that the colours took on a more paranoid edge by the time that it was finished.
Pripyat Revisited was drawn in my room. I covered the walls around my bed in brown paper to draw Pripyat, the deserted town near to the site of the Chernobyl disaster. It was started early this year when fears of the Coronavirus spreading were starting to be heard. It is so large that I became entirely surrounded by the drawing and it felt like a layer of protection from the real, increasingly deserted, outside world.
Wish You Were Here was drawn on wardrobe panels in the spare room of my father’s house where I found myself exiled after lockdown had started. I felt isolated away from London and from everyone and everything I knew and started to imagine somewhere ideal – a place of wonder – based on memories of past places I had visited where I had been happy.
The subject matter for my paintings are buildings and urban landscapes. I love walking around towns and cities looking at buildings and imagining the stories they contain. Some buildings hold stories that are well known to us and others hold more personal tales. I want my drawings to contain an essence of these tales and the emotions they hold. When beginning a new drawing I look at my sketches and the photos that I have taken of the urban landscape and the buildings within it. I'll then choose parts of the sketches or photos that fascinate me the most – it might be a staircase or a roof or courtyard. When I have found several elements, I then start to sketch them out in a way that works visually. This process can take a long time. Once I am satisfied with the composition, I block in the colours. Then I start to build up the colours and make the image more detailed.
I have a full-time job but I work compressed hours so I have the weekends and Wednesdays to work on drawings and paintings as well as evenings. Having time away from my drawing helps me to think about what needs to be changed. It also gives me the space to see my work from a fresh perspective. I draw because it makes me feel and think in a different way. When I am not drawing or painting, I feel empty and like there is something not quite right with myself. Creativity is essential to me and I can’t think what life would be like if I wasn’t doing something creative.
I am influenced by Expressionists such as Emile Nolde, Munch and the Neo-Expressionists – artists such as Kiefer and Baselitz. I also love the energy found in the work of the Futurist painters such as Giacomo Balla.