The elusive, enigmatic Mr. Hicks is one of the UK’s finest illustrators. A great artist and a proper gentleman, he has a strong background in graffiti. His characters are some of the most unique and evocative around. Winner of contracts and competitions all over the world, Hicks also has a somewhat strange fascination with felines and bread-based Italian food…
More jump off after the jump off
Tell us, what’s your obsession with cats and pizza?
What? Oh that… Good god I’m hungover, can we talk about something not food related? Cats and pizza are… Well they’re just funny aren’t they? Hummm, that’s not really an interesting start to the interview. Right. I’ve got my Turkish coffee here, we can do better than this. Questions, lets go. NEXT!
Where do your characters come from? And where do they go when you’re finished with them?
Oh, ok. Well, characters come from the way the hand moves. You see, a lot of people picked up spray cans when they read ‘Subway Art’. But if you came a bit later and drew characters, then the book that kicked it off was Scrawl – dirty graphics. To me, people like Mr. Jago, Matt Sewell, Will Barras and so much of the Bristol scene were real heroes. I was fortunate enough to work along side them in my early graff days and they really wrote the book for me. It was the ennoblement of the doodle. It was neo-expressionism before people got all vector-clean. Those little scribbles you make when on the phone, when the logical brain is occupied become essentially your tag.
Muscular memory creates shapes. The shapes become faces, animals and landscapes. Influence creeps in, then out and changes are slow, but you end up with something very much your own.
So you’ve experimented with a lot of different styles and techniques, what are your favourite materials to play around with?
A single flat brush, a huge white expanse, black paint and NO plan. The technique I use is based upon the way the brush naturally moves. So again, the images are based upon the lines that are formed by this technique. I pretty much sit back and watch the image unearth itself from the wall. It feels almost like conducting, you wave your hands and the orchestra does all the work. But also, it’s like conducting electricity. The light bulb doesn’t know how it shines, it just does when it’s made to. It happens on auto-pilot. There’s a glitch in time and then I’m stepping away and it’s done. No other medium I’ve found takes the reigns like that. Did that sound a bit new-age crystal waver? Shit, basically live painting. You do the picture, get drunk, everyone claps, then you go home. Also, note: pretty girls come up and talk to you 10 times more than any gig you have ever played, live painting = score. FACT.
As an artist you paint some quite brooding pieces, is that deliberate?
Being in Metal bands in my teens left a mark ok? I try keep it in check, honest. Ha ha ha. Must have been the scrumpy. Uuurrrggg… Scrumpy… I feel ill.
What is your biggest challenge as a painter?
Honestly? Well this isn’t going to sound too cool, but, getting enough work to survive. The biggest challenge is yourself. In creative self-employment, you live in the moment. So like the art itself, there’s little planning. Believe me, things can get pretty destitute. It’s not an easy career if you don’t want to be a braggart or an oaf. I’ve met a few of them and, unsurprisingly, they went on to do well. I have no idea what comes next, but as long as I do work I’m proud of, then I don’t mind toothpaste for dinner a couple of times a year.
54 Crew are pretty infamous for basically being mental and painting trains naked, what’s the craziest story you’ve got of painting with those guys?
Ha ha ha! Errrr… Where do you start? Inserting Belton cans in Amsterdam sex workers? Hospitalizing guards in the Prague yard? The piss drinking? (Girls’ pee tastes worse than boys, by the way) The drug runs across America in a convertible? Traveling to Egypt to take photos of rubbish bins? It was usually pretty fucked. The infidelity, the fallouts, the alcoholism, the actual heart attacks, the homelessness, the horror… It’s a lot calmer now that the ringleaders have moved away. 54 is pretty much finished. But it spawned two excellent sub-crews – DEADLEG and BEST-EVER. Check them out.
You won Secret Wars UK a couple of years ago, how did that come about and what did it feel like to receive that accolade?
Weird, 1500 people turn up at the final to watch you PAINT? All those people, standing round. Literally: WATCHING. PAINT. DRY. What’s that about? I really can’t take it seriously. Truth is, I never wanted to do Secret Wars, the idea didn’t sit right with me. But some of the people doing it were so BAD and I’ve been performing music solo for 14 years, so being on stage is quite natural. It was like “Well I may as well put on a stupid outfit, dance around and have a laugh with it.” So I did and it was fun and somehow I ended up winning the tournament. Becoming a part of secret Wars got me great jobs, took me all over Europe and meant I met some really good people, so I’m very, very lucky to have had all that.
If you could paint any city in the world, where would it be?
Its not WHERE, but, HOW BIG? I want to go HUGE. But as for the dream job? Redesigning Space Invaders crisp packets. Just imagine. Wow!
Which is colder, a sealions balls, or Father Christmas?
Santa got the chilliest nuts in the lapland, ‘make a slush puppy wince.
Ok that was a trick one, everyone knows sealions don’t have balls, can you tell me a bit about your music production?
CURSES! I make music? Yeah I guess so… Time was when art/music was a 50/50 split. Now it’s more 97/3.
They are two very different personalities and there’s no cross over. I over-think the music, to a point where it doesn’t even get made. Conversely, I just DO the painting so I can be massively prolific. So that’s what I’m known for. It’s a funny old game. But soon as I get a new live set together you will be the first to know. It’s either going to be stomping old-core avant-blues, dirty Parisian electro or crooning torch songs. Haven’t decided yet. But not metal. Or Hip Hop. (Not even my friends know this, but there was a very brief stint in Southampton when I tried to rap in a band. NO ONE WILL EVER, EVER HEAR THIS. It’s the most embarrassing shit I’ve ever done, in a time best forgotten).
Finally, where do you want to take your artwork next?
Toys. Watch this space, its coming. Aside from that, exhibitions? Music? To be honest, I really don’t know, but I got a good feeling about this year… Being in VNA magazine more! Ha ha ha, there you go, that’s a plan. Meantime, I have to go eat some eggs. Eggs vs. massive hangover. Eggs always win. Cheers guys!
See more of Hicks’ visual ramblings here