Tapping into personal and collective subconsciousness with Jacob Hicks

Brooklyn-based painter Jacob Hicks routinely looks to the early Medieval and Renaissance periods in art history as his primary source of inspiration. Despite this, Jacob’s work varies considerably from painting to painting, with some canvases featuring figurative portrait studies whilst others present psychedelic kaleidoscopic compositions of figures, colors and shapes. Working completely automatically without preplanning or sketches, Jacob allows his paintings to evolve organically, building layer upon layer of complexity until the work is complete. Often inserting his own portrait into his works, Jacob’s paintings have a distinctly personal quality to them with deeply subconscious imagery.

In addition to his own painting, Jacob runs Quantum Art Review, an online platform for arts writing and artist interviews, and curates occasional group exhibitions.

AMM: Hi Jacob! To kick things off, can you tell us a little about your current style of painting and how you’ve arrived at this place in your art-making over the years? 

JH: Sometimes I work very slowly, with a maddening penchant for exactitude, trying to formally define something intuitive and personal in the way a Primitive Flemish master would. Sometimes I work extremely quickly, like an Expressionist, still searching for exactitude, but a different kind that defines feeling. Both kinds of work are related; I would love to be able to bridge the two into a single image but as of now they are separate.

AMM: What interests you about Renaissance and early Mediaeval art? When did you start incorporating references from these periods into your own work? 

JH: I like the feigned innocence found in the early medieval. Due to worries of idolatry and such strict religious control, art was not allowed to look like reality by the church; everything ends up appearing child-like, dreamy, but true to its devotional nature. These artists were forced to look inward to find their images. I like the way the world is given to the viewer in the Renaissance, suddenly perspective and all the previous formal modes of painterly magic unravel a window into a holistic world, opened just for the pair of eyes looking. Classicism is remembered and embraced. These paintings where like blockbuster movies – how much can we show of a religious narrative? How deeply can the eye see? How convincingly can we tell these stories with the latest visual technologies? I like the answers the Renaissance masters found and applied, and really, who doesn’t? These are the periods I looked closest to when I began painting, so their seeds have always blossomed in my work.

AMM: Your paintings have quite a psychedelic quality to them. To what extent do you think you draw from your subconscious in your work?

JH: My work is almost all drawn from dreams and mythology (the shared dreams of our culture). I am only lately realizing what a profound mark popular cinema has made on me – I’m talking the computer-generated stuff, sci-fi and Star Wars. I like work that is a jumble of culture, personal narrative, myth, and dream.

AMM: You’ve mentioned in a previous interview that your compositions evolve as you’re working on them. Can you tell us more about your creative process?  

JH: After being inspired by some initial content – like a face or a story – I basically sit down and go. The rest is driven by an impromptu sort of excitement. If something I liked in an early stage of composition needs to go, then it’s gone. There really aren’t any rules to my art. What I am really averse to is a form of creation so common today – photoshop a composition and copy. Where is the creation in that?  That is what man made printers for.

AMM: How long do you typically work on a painting for? When do you know when a work is complete? 

JH: Still no rules. Shortest time frame is a day, longest is in years. The work tells me when it is done.

AMM: Can you tell us a little about your 100 Women series? How do these works relate to your busier, surreal paintings? 

JH: This is a project I am working on with my mom, poet Glenda Lindsey-Hicks. I’m making paintings to correspond with her poems, and we are applying with Lost Alphabet, an international press, to get it published. I’m crossing my fingers it works out. We wanted to address the dehumanization of misogyny and its prevalence. I wanted to paint women not as objects to gaze at, but as complicated individuals.

AMM: What does a day in studio typically look like for you? 

JH: Right now my studio is my bedroom. During the week I make the art of Dustin Yellin with a team in his Red Hook studio, but I reserve the weekends for my personal painting. I roll out of bed, make coffee, mix my palette, and go. It’s usually a morning to night sort of ordeal with music or the news playing in the background. when I am in painting mode I am a true hermit.

AMM: Are you influenced by the physical space you work in? What does your studio look and feel like? 

JH: I have to have a very organized work space. Because my studio is my home, I find great comfort in it. I like houseplants and cleanliness. I also have three pet frogs who are the sweetest of studio companions – Romulus, MooGoo, and Larry.

AMM: What materials do you use in your work and why? 

JH: Strictly oil on cradled panel. I had some bad experiences with rolling and unrolling canvas, so right now I’m just wood.

AMM: You’re regularly in the interviewer seat. What are some of the questions you most enjoy asking other artists? 

JH: That’s right, I run QuantumArtReview.com, a project where I interview artists I admire and review shows I see in NYC (I’m based in Brooklyn.) I let the work of the interviewee drive my questioning, but I really like asking artists about those who influence them.

AMM: What’s next for you?

JH: More painting, and I’m always looking for opportunities to show my work and gallery representation.

See more of Jacob’s work via his website: www.jacobhickspainter.com

Text written and interview conducted by Layla Leiman for Artmaze Mag.