BS: Painting / Sculpture – Kansas State University
MA: Painting – University of Iowa
MFA: Printmaking – University of Iowa
Additional studies at Stanford, Atlanta University and the La Romita School of Art in Terni, Italy
Venvi Art Gallery is honored to present a curated collection of artists proofs and prints by the internationally esteemed Leon Hicks. The show, titled “Leon Hicks ‘Uncle Junior’: Copperplate Engraver and Visionary Guru,” will be on view from September 5—October 13, 2018. Over the last 50 years, Hicks has earned a reputation as an expert printmaker, dedicated educator, and patron to the arts. He has received numerous awards, participated in many solo and group exhibitions, and taught art at institutions throughout the United States. In 1999, he retired as Professor Emeritus from Webster University, where he had been part of the core faculty for twenty-five-years, and where an endowed scholarship was established in his name.
While widely traveled, Hicks has retained a deep connection to the South, and Florida in particular. Raised on a small farm in Alachua County, he suggests his Southern heritage has been integral to both his sense of self and the development of his art, which has always been “situated in terms of place and space – both geographically and conceptually.” The laborious task of engraving copperplates by hand may be largely carried out in solitude, but Hicks’s engravings are never solipsistic expressions. Rather, they articulate a site-specific “presence” of a particular social, temporal, and geographic milieu. And Hicks, who retired to Tallahassee and maintains a studio space in Railroad Square, says the city’s geographic and demographic dimensions continue to inspire him.
While the upcoming show is not a retrospective, the inclusion of his classic 1961 etching Black Boy may be viewed in the context of his lifetime of accomplishments, and invites a comparison with his later engravings that discard the representational object. In this early print, the image of a boy in profile is composed of a dense crosshatching of fine lines, much like grass blades or threads, that suggest powerful linkages between the boy and his environment, the boy and his community. The theme of “geographic” and “conceptual” space becomes more apparent in the later abstractions featured in the show. Roy Ascott defined these “virtualscapes” as “the artificial extension of human intelligence and perception.” Hicks further explains them as “a play with the idea of a space that only exists conceptually” or the representation of “inner sensations” as the individual responds to geography and the historical moment. Calling to mind topographical maps and suggesting the contours of the visible world as distorted by distance or unusual scale, Hicks’s “virtualscapes” emphasize shapes, lines, and negative space. As Tom Lang aptly described them in 1996, “The mist of free flowing ‘natural form’ and the regularity of intersecting curves, angles, and straights bear some relationship to our experience of looking down from an airplane.”
Above all, Hicks’s prints are a reminder of the skill, training, and labor involved in the painstaking process of copperplate engraving. While Hicks has the patience and focus of an artisan, he also has the vision of the studio artist. He has introduced nuance, subtlety, and improvisation to a technique once commonly used for the mundane purposes of commercial illustration and mapmaking.