Peter Hicks: A Retrospective
Saturday 9 September to Monday 16 October
Peter Hicks has achieved national and international status with his atmospheric and expressive paintings. The Esk Valley and the surrounding moorland have had a deep and lasting influence on his life and work, as he explains:
“I am aware that not everyone will feel an affinity with the way I see and interpret the visual world. There are, however, enough of those who, seeing what I do, feel a strong pull towards my work, sensing a shared experience.
My youngest daughter Beverley says my paintings are not abstract but abstracted – that they are a metaphor for what I experience in life. A painting becomes mine as I make choices that shape the way it looks. It becomes an amalgam of things seen, now and in the past; shot through with a way of perceiving that has evolved over many years. The image becomes as much about me, as it is concerned with things actually seen.
Many of my earliest memories are of the Esk Valley, and the area is central to my life as a painter of visual things. Born in 1937, I have a surprisingly vivid memory, which is the blessing, or the curse, that shadows my life.
My pictorial language began to form when I was a young child, living with my grandparents in Grosmont. I recall the amazing blue cornflowers growing wild on sloping ground not far from St Matthew’s Church in the village; and how, on a summer’s day, the heat sucked out the colour from a hillside of green trees. It’s hard to believe that these earliest snatched images were from a time of war – the tunnel in Grosmont, the one that leads to the engine sheds alongside the train tunnel, was our air raid shelter and we even had our own searchlight, heaven knows why.
My memories of childhood in the woods, streams and fields around Grosmont are almost all idyllic, yet they are pockmarked with fearful moments during air raids, as the sound of enemy aircraft could be clearly heard. Yet this can be set against the sight and sound of friendly aircraft, high up in the sky on a summer’s day, the epitome of summer.
Later, as an art teacher, I lived and worked away from Grosmont, but brought my young family here on many occasions. It then became a place of solace after the death of my first wife. This was the time I made my first drawings and colour studies, exploring the places around Grosmont that I had known as a child – searching places of memory, making marks and placing colours down to re-awaken past sensations. This awakening of my childhood past gave me the courage to think again about devoting this later part of my life to painting. It was a challenge that had haunted me for most of my adult life and, with my daughters at university, forging their own futures, I could take advantage of this opportunity.
I grew up as part of a very creative family, people of immense talent and skill, people who cast long and impressive shadows. Now was the time to discover a pictorial voice of my own, rooted in the visual experiences of this amazing valley. The Esk Valley has never been the limit of my visual resource, but it has been the foundation on which it has been built. It is a constant in my working life, along with being my home in ever so many ways.”
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