|American Star Child|
Jonathan Michael Hicks
A few years ago I was introduced to visual artist Jonathan Michael Hicks through Carla Williams and after a failed attempt to interview him for another publication, I've finally nabbed him for this blog.
His latest charcoal drawings on Bible pages (oh, the blasphemy!) caught my eye one day while scrolling through G+ posts. They, like so much of Hicks' other works, are loaded and charged with historical references...
D&B: Land/place/location seems to be a recurrent theme in your work. Tell us
where you are from and how this physical place of origin has influenced
JMH: I'm from
Birmingham, Alabama. Born and raised in a lovely house there. It's a
rich place unique to history, not just for the Civil Rights Movement,
Bus Boycott and Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter From A Birmingham
Jail", but also for it's connection to England and Spain and the English
and location have influenced a great deal of my work as it has allowed
me to address the connection between travel (for example, to The San Juan
Islands, WA), slavery, segregation and the royalty around those topics.
Complex topics to which many artists exploit or pander to but few
actually have a claim to address by birth or name. I feel I have a claim
being from Birmingham.
|From the series Take Care by Jonathan Michael Hicks|
Where do you reside now?
I live in an
apartment in San Francisco. I've lived in this special city off and on,
since starting graduate school and MFA training at the San Francisco Art
Institute in photography in 2010. I moved away to be with my mother in
Birmingham before she died in 2011. Then I moved back to S.F. in 2013 to
coincide with the new pope, Pope Francis of Rome, and to restart/finish
graduate training at Academy of Art University studying painting and
intentionally breaks standard web interface design rules. What's your
philosophy behind displaying your work online?
supposed to be a little fun so my philosophy to showing work online is
make my website an art piece for display. At least with mine I see it as
a portrait of self so I pretend I am King Richard the Lionheart. My
last name Hicks is a nickname for Richard.
Is your use of iconic objects of violence (like the noose and the cross) meant to be provocative?
The noose and
cross are educational/historical. For example in my new work I'm
exploring Bible pages and drawing characters on the actual pages; then I
photograph them. It's like drawing 101 educational/historical, not for
I don't understand why so many artists think of violence as
sexy or attention grabbing. I use violent objects, like bullets, as more
tools to teach than provocative objects. On my website, the bullets are
actually designed penis shapes and sleeping bags turned to look like
they're bullets floating in space.
|Bible drawings by Jonathan Michael Hicks (2013)|
What about the
markings? On chalkboard, on magazine advertisements... They range
from "primitive" scratches to patterned strokes and handwritten
messages. Are they another type of self portrait?
Yes, the markings
are very primitive but I see it more as Neo-Expressionism. "Mirror
portraits" would be a nice name for the markings on mixed media; or
"visual conversational narratives" would be a nice slogan for some of them
I'm fascinated by celebrity and with ideas of
the transformation of the handmade mark. I find combinations of both to
be overwhelmingly interesting... Almost like pairing a Jean-Michel
Basquiat and Andy Warhol painting.
The message of some artworks can sometimes fall on deaf ears. What audience(s) do you most want to be in conversation with?
I disagree. Recently, I've participated in a group photography show
"Photography Open Salon" in Arles, France. New audiences took well to
the pieces displayed, provocative by artist standards.
audiences are so short lived when it comes to conversations... so I
don't worry about the deaf... just the artistically blind audiences. I
love stirring them and I live for the feel of simply making a new piece.
I feel if the work is good then it always comes around at some point.
At least that's what happen for Bill Traylor, another Alabama native.
What is the story behind your "ART" tattoo?
Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol painting pairings, I treat my art
tattoo like a copyright/patent label dedicated to my first love, my mom.
The story is she always wanted to be an artist so I honor her by
wearing ART on my chest to represent she made me. I'm altering her
picture like Picasso and his light photography.
|Four images from the series Nude Participation by Jonathan Michael Hicks|
Besides Spiderman, who are your superheroes in life?
Superman, if we're
speaking fictionally. Hank Willis Thomas, Allan Desouza, Tameka Norris,
Carrie Mae Weems and Aaron Young if we're speaking realistically. San
Francisco Art Institute and Yale School of Art alum Aaron Young by far
is my favorite artist (he's like Superman) because of his large format
abstract paintings and uniquely designed photographs.
MFA education/degree: worth it or not?
speaking, coming from the MFA training in photography and painting at
the San Francisco Art Institute, the Maryland Institute College of Art
and now the Academy of Art University, I say so worth it. Worth it
because it gets you where you want to go in this profession and gets you
what you want in this field.
I love that I've worked with so many different
artists. I mean who can argue with an artist with training from three
MFA programs, two of which that are always in the top 20 art programs,
and one that sums them all up cost efficiently while sacrificing nothing
Do you prefer to use photography as a tool to make images or to document your work?
video, is the eye of God to me, so I say I use it for both. I love creating
just from seeing, but knowing (like Ansel Adams) that I can document reality
around me fascinates me.
Best advice you've ever gotten about making art or being an artist?
That's a tie.
First would be from Gagosian artist Aaron Young: "Know yourself and then
take it too far in your art work." Second would be from Birmingham
Museum of Art modern art curator Ron Platt: "I think your work is really
strong now, but I think your art work will be a million times better
once you get married and have children." Working on doing both these
days. The latter quote of course takes time.
Dodge & Burn is a blog dedicated to documenting a more inclusive history of photography and supporting the work of photographers of color with photographer interviews.
This blog is published by visual artist and writer, Qiana Mestrich. For regular updates on diversity in photography history, follow Qiana on Twitter @mestrich, Like the Dodge & Burn Blog page on Facebook or subscribe to Dodge & Burn by email.
Labels: african american, interview, MFA, mixed media, multi-media