First you have to learn the rules; then you can break them.
It's an adage Ron Hicks knows well. After attending the Columbus College of Art and Design on a scholarship and graduating from the Colorado Institute of Art, he found his own expression - outside of traditional viewpoints.
Not that he believes there's anything wrong with academic training. In fact, he found it essential. But after working on photorealistic painting - trying to represent an apple almost like a photograph - he discovered there's more to artistry than "transferring information."
Now, he interprets information into an expressive idea or statement, which he creates on a canvas.
"I find that the more I'm burdened with the technical aspects of painting, the less I see," Hicks said. "So before I lay my first brushstroke, I have to clear my mind so I can paint from the heart."
Vail International Gallery in Vail is showing up to 20 new paintings by Hicks in the gallery through Jan. 10. A reception is set for this evening from 4 to 6 p.m.
"Every two years we ask Ron to create an important one man show for our gallery and dedicate our entire exhibition space to the paintings he gives us," said Gallery co-owner Marc LeVarn. "Each of these shows produces paintings which I consider among the most significant works our gallery has ever sold."
One of the ways Hicks clears his mind is by literally viewing models and landscapes differently - a technique that now comes to him naturally, allowing him feel more than he analyzes.
He has trained himself to focus primarily on shapes and values, rather than color in landscapes and figures he paints. For example, if the ear of a model is bright, he rates it high on a scale of 0-10, and then relates everything else in the composition to that value. Rather than perceiving separate objects in a scene, he views them more as shapes in relation to each other.
As a result, he rarely uses pure color. Instead, he might use a muted palette, including gray, which allows him to capture the atmosphere, mood and layers of emotion of a subject.
"If you consider all of the visual elements - shape, value, color, edges, texture and line - I personally believe shape and value are most important," he said.
Following his heart
Once he develops his visual approach to a painting, he then turns his attention to what he wants to say through the composition. In fact, his inspiration stems from his attitude that he "could paint the same subject matter a hundred times and still come up with something different to say each time." He says he's as satisfied painting a paper towel as he is a couple in a cafe due to his intent to sophisticatedly convey the shape and value of subjects.
His style, which blends representational characteristics with impressionism, incorporates loose brushwork that imbues depth into the painting. Likewise, he allows models to find a "loose," comfortable pose, rather than imposing a stiff, contrived position.
"Models will fall into something that's more natural and more them," he said.
In the end, art to Hicks is all about following his heart.
"The French novelist Andre Gide said: 'Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does, the better,'" Hicks said. "My goal is to share my vision. My hope is that whoever views my work will have their own intimate encounter with it. I consider myself simply the vehicle used to deliver the work to them."