Interview: Inside The Mosh Pit With Vicky Allen Hanks
In Articles | Interviews
By Tony Zaza15 February 2012
n the New York metropolitan art mosh pit, it’s hard being green and also a vegetarian, animal-rights activist, buyer-planner, conservationist and an artist. Vicky Allen Hanks even has to work for a living since she was not a trust-fund baby (a titanium white oil stick averages $25 a stick, Belgian linen is $180 a roll). We visit with her in her new home-based studio in Montclair, which is a third the size of her former loft space in Newark. Hanks’ art often depicts, in a cartoonish mannerism, struggles with the accoutrements of femininity in a male-dominated universe. But her current series of new paintings are infused with animal imagery.
The “WALLENDA” series of plano-convex sculptural paintings are comprised of compact, multi-dimensional, colorful commentaries on the human encroachment upon natural habitat of other living species. These works extend and elaborate upon past work that reflects concern for relationships between line and pictorial space. Structurally, these works effect a sense of drawing with space, giving emphasis to the humorous and buoyant treatment of line. The serio-comic imagery, thickening and thinning of shapes and elastic demeanor, feel spontaneous and alive. Designed to be wall-mounted, ceiling-suspended, or anchored in free open environments, WALLENDAS possess the compositional integrity of collage while maintaining the painterly quality of abstraction. Like some ancient wall paintings, WALLENDAS echo a unique type of cautionary iconography while remaining fluidly decorative and insightfully explorative
Tony Zaza: Your paintings are filled with critter imagery. Where did the inspiration come from?
Vicky Allen Hanks: I think it’s partly because I’m a vegetarian and the vegetarian came first and then the animal part. I didn’t put animals in my work for a very long time because I thought doing that would diminish them or exploit them but I am more interested in animals than humans.
TZ: What themes or subjects most interest you?
VAH: Animal themes interest me in terms of getting to know an animal by studying it closely, visually and scientifically and being able to portray it realistically as far as its basic emotions. Fear is the primary feeling of an animal–it is the most useful emotion or feeling, to help it survive. Animals can be bewildered, I think mostly by what man does. I am interested in how I can convey this also.
TZ: Can you tell us a bit about your approach and techniques?
VAH: Ideas come at times when I’m not in the studio and I note them but often they aren’t the whole genesis of a work. I make drawings of the random ideas and keep going on a theme, taking it into a short series and sometimes I take a drawing out of that series to make an oil painting. For the Wallenda series, I start by making the Wallenda shape which looks like a shell. I know I want to put animals into the field and I know I currently want them to be a combination of extinct, almost extinct and very common domestic animals. I build the composition within the Wallenda shape or sometimes don’t begin with a shape at all – just a big blank white sheet of Arches. I may start with a large animal like a full-length horse that anchors the piece and other creatures and things begin to inhabit the space, such as a Cadillac car or parts of architecture or household things like TVs and furniture. It’s an additive process.
TZ: How would you classify your work? Where do you think it “fits”?
VAH: I don’t know at all. The paper works are different from the oil paintings. They could be in different categories perhaps. I use some surreal tactics but I also try to be true to nature when I depict animals. Some of the works can have a cartoonish look. The paper works – Wallendas – that are painted or drawn in ink and then cut out and bent throw shadows of their outlines on the wall and create what I like to think is a 4th dimension. You could call them paper sculptures if you are very literal but they are much more about the illusion of painting.
TZ: You are literally a working artist – spending a great deal of time earning a living with the weekends reserved for your painting. What is your perspective on the current art scene?
VAH: I think it’s uninspired. And it’s completely commercial. It’s not really an art scene. There’s not really any art there – you can’t find the art.
TZ: You have been sort of working on the periphery, by yourself, outside of New York City’s urban art center. Does this impact what you choose to paint?
VAH: Probably. I don’t know. I never evaluated that, but I’ve been steeped in the urban environment by visiting New York City over many years. With media the way it is and considering the internet, it doesn’t seem to matter where you are. You can be influenced by culture no matter where you are.
TZ: Are there fewer distractions?
VAH: No, I don’t think there are fewer distractions. I don’t think that part matters.
TZ: Your earlier series of paintings several years ago were cartoonish in structure and imagery and more sexually explicit. Why did you move away from that idiom?
VAH: I think I used up my interest in that and I also thought it was, you know, too easy. So what? You place sexual imagery in a work that anyone can relate to. In retrospect it’s not very deep, but it was fun to do them and they were more comical than sexual. I changed jobs, relocated to the suburbs, I am a different person and my work is different.
TZ: Lets switch to the marketplace for a bit. Do you equate value with selling?
VAH: I probably should and I think that’s how artists become successful. They are either extremely personable and they’re born sales people themselves or they have the money or the wherewithal to have someone else do it for them. I think, without someone selling her/his work, in this market, in this country, they are really going nowhere. If they don’t want to sell their own work, I guess it makes them freer. They are not tied to the bottom line like a corporation.
TZ: Do you see your work as unexposed in the marketplace?
VAH: Yes, it has only been out marginally.
TZ: Do you consider your work provocative?
VAH: No, I don’t. But I don’t know if other people do because there is so much work out now that is bland or that is so blatantly, overtly sexual, like a Victoria’s Secret ad.
TZ: Your work is filled with imagery. How long does it take to work these compositions?
VAH: That’s hard to say but it has nothing to do with the struggle to complete a work. It’s more about the free time that’s available since I’m not a full-time artist.
TZ: When does an artists want his work to be seen? At what phase?
VAH: I guess if I feel it’s completed, I can show it immediately. If I feel it is done. I don’t need for it to incubate. If I’m satisfied with it, anyone can see it the next day.
TZ: Within the canvas, there is a feeling of grand scale like the composition is wanting to be a mural. It’s crammed with life forms. Do you shy away from large-scale compositions?
VAH: I might be only because I have personal time constraints. I like that you are seeing a lot going on. I’m not interested in a narrative but rather in scenes or motifs that are more complicated and that can be read on different levels, so you have to go back over and over the works in order to see everything that is there.
TZ: You paint life but not from life and don’t use live models. How and where did you develop this skill in anatomical correctness?
VAH: I don’t know. I think there is observation that is going on all the time even when I’m not working on an artwork. I think you lose something if you are only looking at photographs or only looking at something on the internet. There is a certain amount of information your garner from looking at an animal or living thing that stays in your mind and you can call on it. I think that the danger of sitting in front of something is that you are going to copy instead of interpret. I would not want to copy something because the urge to do that makes creativity difficult.
TZ: I think you are a colorist as you have created new hues and shades. Where do you arrive at these colors, as you never paint in natural light? Would painting outdoors diminish your color sensitivity?=
VAH: I have no idea. I think it’s more intuitive. Once I’m not looking at the reference material anymore, it becomes more of an intuitive response and what is interesting and what has a lot of depth and what has a lot of, I don’t know if its emotional content or what, is making something look more alive. There must be some learned habits or learned skills in there somewhere but I can’t discern where one starts and the other leaves off.
TZ: Do you think your art is seen as decorative and animated rather than “activist”? Do you want to poke the viewer?
VAH: I don’t know about decorative because there is usually something a little bit edgy in there. That ‘s more to entertain me than the viewer, but I don’t know about activism. It would depend, I mean the work I’m doing now is getting more and more complicated, so I think it may be more difficult for someone to come across it and have a simple reading and say its provocative and that its trying to raise a reaction
TZ: Your drawings are tiny miracles of Dada and surrealist ideas. Do your paintings begin as drawings?
VAH: Usually they do, and actually the more they adhere to the original drawing, the more vitality and quick-study quality they retain from the original energy. If I depart too much from the quick little drawing and start to get too fussy, then I loose that energy and vitality.
TZ: What is important for you in the studio? Is it always a comfort zone? Does space matter?
VAH: Not really. It needs to be a space I can go into but no one else. You know, coming from an enormous loft into a very tiny space recently doesn’t really seem to matter and, actually, the smaller space tends to encourage much better focus so perhaps the smaller space is even better. I’m not really sure.
TZ: Is it your responsibility to sell your art?
VAH: I feel like it is. I feel sort of guilty that I don’t push sales, but I wish it weren’t so. The art market you know is a separate thing. It’s a business and it’s like a big corporate thing or real estate. It’s very tied to real estate. So I don’t have that talent and there are only so many hours in the day. In the current market I think that an artist needs to have a certain, even an outlandish, personality to put her/his work out there or its just going to be dormant for a very long time. I mean America is not a place that embraces art unless it hits people over the head. So America’s sort of in the wrong and I’m in the wrong country to get my work out there.
January 22, 2012
Photo Credits: Vicky Allen Hanks
Writing Credits: Tony Zaza taught himself how to draw on rainy days in Hoboken, New Jersey when it was still a rough and tumble town of dockworkers and alcoholics. He studied painting, photography, printmaking, and graphic design at the School of Visual Arts and the New School during an era when it was embarrassing to admit one had artistic tendencies and Max’s Kansas City was still unknown. Most of his early work was destroyed by his first wife. He has recently re-invented his art inclination with hundreds of drawings of New York cafés and has initiated two series of paintings of which “May I feather Your Nest” is part.
<< Previous Article Next Article >>