Thrown to the Wolves: An Interview with Artist Rex Hicks
Rex was that OTHER guy at the party with a DSLR. Canon. Respect.
While I rocked the bandoleer style, Rex was a neck slinger. Obviously, Rex was a man of action.
Several bouts with momentary flash blindness later, Rex and I shouted shop over what I believe was the soundtrack to Dangerous Minds stuck on repeat. As I write this, I suddenly regret not parlaying that happenstance musical accompaniment into an ironic foreshadowing of our involvement in some clandestine conspiracy for world domination.
Eh, you can’t win them all I guess.
The obligatory facebook request came sometime later, and it wasn’t until then that a window was opened through which I could view Rex’s work. Immediately it was obvious that mood is the name of his game. Through creative lighting, unexpected color combinations and an obvious comfort with experimentation, Rex combines physical and digital mediums to exude expression of his sometimes brooding, always thoughtful themes.
Recently, Rex was kind enough to share some of his favorite pieces with me and answer some of my questions about his work:
Clinton: Rex, thanks so much for answering a few of my questions. I’ve seen bits and pieces of your work over the past few months, but was excited to have the opportunity to look at more of your work and in greater detail. Before we really dig in, can you tell me a little bit about your background both in general and in the art world? Where are you from? How did you get started?
Rex: I’m originally from Iowa, where I lived for about 23 years. Recently, I moved to Quincy and have just started delving into the art scene here. I started out doing a lot of design work for local bands, and designing websites. About two years ago, I got tired of the medium of Photoshop, and was becoming increasingly less happy with the way my style was going, so I decided to take a stab at painting. With very little knowledge of how to paint in any traditional styling, I thought the best thing to try on was a printed out photograph. When I tried to print out the shot, my printer was out of ink, giving it almost a plain outline and some very bland colors to start with. I figured instead of throwing it out, I’d roll with it, and experiment a bit.
Clinton: I notice a couple of things right off the bat when looking at your portfolios. The first one is that without exception, you include the human form in each of your pieces. Can you tell me about this? Is it deliberate in a cerebral sense? Or is it just what you’re drawn to?
Rex: I’ve always been very drawn to the female form, as I think many artists are. I’ve always had a obsession with the shape of the female face and trying to obtain as much chaos and confusion as possible while still holding true to the shape and lines. The mouth in particular is always at the forefront of what I do.
Clinton: Are the models you work with people that you know personally and have insight to their personalities? Or are they just hired forms for your composition? I ask because I was immediately taken with the way that personalities are conveyed through your work, and wondered how the relationship between the conveyed personality and the actual personalities of the subject was intertwined, if at all.
Rex: Some are, and some are not. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with various photographers (Lou Noble, Derek Wood, Noah Kalina) since I’ve started making my paintings and, more recently, my vessels project. It’s been a a great experience going through a photographer’s body of work and finding a shot that just screams a specific personality or emotion, while still staying relevant to the shape and concept of what I’m trying to convey. Recently, I’ve done photo-shoots with the pure intention of turning them into pieces and have had a few people offer to do the same.
Clinton: The second thing I notice is your extraordinary use of color but often in unexpected ways. For instance, bright and expressive shapes while leaving flesh tones muted or completely white or very dark is kind of a signature style of yours. Can you discuss this approach?
Rex: The colors have always meant a lot to me, my intention with them, especially in my vessels pieces, has been to represent to the best of my ability the soul leaving a body, like a great light, escaping through the eyes, mouth, nose, fingertips. Some leaving in more dramatic motions, some smoothly flowing through the body.
Clinton: You are an artist who uses physical mediums as well as digital for your creations. In fact, there are some deliberate parallels with some of your physical pieces and your digital compositions. I’m curious about the process of deciding which idea gets expressed in physical mediums vs. those you choose for digital composition. Is it theme specific? Piece specific? Convenience?
Rex: Sometimes it’s convenience, but typically I try to use the best medium I can to get across the image I would like to portray. In some situations with photography I have been trying to achieve the closest physical version of my paintings as I can. Sometimes I start thinking of shots that are impossible, and those will typically turn into the Photoshop work. I love the challenge of attempting to turn something so flat and color oriented into something real.
Clinton: As a followup to that, do you feel any difference about the work as you’re doing it digitally vs. physically? Do you miss the tactile experiences of working with physical mediums?
Rex: In everything I do, there is a physical element like a hand-painted background or texture, but I always do find there to be a major difference in the feeling, I find the Photoshop stuff to be far less of a experience as doing it on real paper, or with a live model, but am typically able to accomplish more and be happier with my results doing it digitally, and able to distribute it in more ways, and to more people.
Clinton: Even though you work in several areas, can you discuss your approach to the digital compositions? Where do your source photos come from? What program(s) are you working with most often?
Rex: I will typically find a photographer (or in some cases, they’ll find me), and I ask permission to use their work, then I will find a photo I love and start thinking of what colors and textures I’d like it to have. Then, I will hand-paint something to use as a base for the shot. I will bring both files into Photoshop and manipulate them via layers or cutting until I am happy with the result.
Clinton: There is an obvious parallel between the physical piece “Roma” and your digital piece “The Reeling.” Are these meant to be pieces in a series? More subtly, there is a recurring theme of obscuring the eyes of your subjects in several pieces. I wonder if you could discuss that a bit?
Rex: They both came out of wanting to show someone at their darkest. Literally crying out every bit of spirit left in them. I’ve always liked to think of the girls in my shots as living breathing characters and to represent their emotion at the time as physically as I could manage. Obscuring the figures eyes is something I didn’t do intentionally for the longest time. When I first started, I wanted to give myself a challenge. So, typically I would just rip a big hole into the picture, or blot out a huge area with paint, typically around the eyes, and then try my hardest to make it work. As I’ve continued doing it, I’ve sort of fell into it as a theme, and try and find interesting ways to paint a picture without using the models eyes to fall back on.
Clinton: Images IMG_1125 and IMG_9836 are both photos that appear to be taken with some fluorescent paint and special lighting… although they “look” like digital compositions. Can you explain the process of setting up these shots and how you accomplished the fluorescent effects?
Rex: Both of these are using the same paint I typically use on my paintings to keep a theme of bright colors alive. The image from “Sick” was shot in a pitch black room, with the black-light as the only bit of light on the shot. The painting was done afterwards, and I watched the model appear in the camera before my eyes. The image from “Wolves” was shot with a very long extension cord, and a black light meant to use only to add a bit of surrealism. It was shot with natural lighting as the sun was going down.
Clinton: “Roma” and IMG_3552 appear in a portfolio album called “Garbage Paintings.” I see that one incorporates duct tape quite a bit. What is going on with these particular pieces? What is the story behind them?
Rex: The “Garbage” paintings started as a test to make things difficult for myself. By allowing myself very few things to use, like what was available in the room at the time, it added a lot to the experimentation and forced me to think in more creative ways. The deconstruction and reconstruction of images has pretty much influenced every medium I attempt since I started my “Garbage” series.
Clinton: Each of your portfolio albums has an interesting and thought provoking name. One of my personal favorites was “Wolves.” IMG_9836 is a part of this album. There are very specific archetypal images that are evoked with the subject of wolves, and I was impressed by how many of these pieces here echoed the feeling yet not the form of those mental associations. Can you tell me a bit about the title and it’s relationship to the pieces? Specifically, how IMG_9836 fits that scheme?
Rex: “Wolves” was definitely shot with a bit of a Native American theme in mind, I wanted the shoot to start out as a more tame photo-shoot with a surreal almost cult like vibe to it. As the sun went down, I wanted to make the character more and more wild and unkempt. Titles have always been very important to me, a lot of them are the first thing that comes to mind when I’m working on something, something natural that fits the feeling of the piece.
Clinton: Have you, or will you have any public showings for your work locally?
Rex: I absolutely hope to. I would love to show what I do to Quincy and meet more like-minded people who are doing the same sort of thing.
Clinton: Is there anything you wish to add or wish that I’d asked you?
Rex: I would like to add that I really don’t know if I’d still be doing what I do if it weren’t for the people that have supported me. I want to thank them, and all the people who have let me use their beautiful photos! Thanks so much!
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