Probably the most difficult of tasks is to view work through rational, thoughtful and critical eyes. Demonstrating not only the understanding of the artist’s work, but also the detached, professional thought process of the critic. This being said, I’m neither a professional nor detached critic. Rather, an artist who has been under the influence of Hickson’s work, since first viewing it.
The first impression of this body of work is the breadth of sophistication scripted into almost every piece. Hickson’s immense talent is featured throughout this portfolio, as it deals with several highly complex and yet seemingly contradictory ideas.
There are two definitive concepts that have driven Hickson, as stated in the startlingly bold artist statement. First, the transience of Ophellia’s beauty and ethereal nature of emotions, and secondly the importance and power of the naked self portrait.
This elaborate presentation of work covers many evolutionary markers, from the plays of Shakespeare, through the Pre-Raphaelite reincarnation of Ophellia, to strong feminist statements that are personified through brilliantly constructed portraits.
The range of techniques seen throughout the portfolio, together with the freshness and sense of immediacy embedded in the works themselves, cause each painting and drawing to stand as a kind of revelation, a world unto itself with its own ideas, challenges and concerns.
It begins with the six dramatic paintings depicting the face of a women suspended in a sea of abstraction, the repetition of the features suggesting self portraits of the artist. Superbly constructed canvases show the serene face surrounded by a multitude of colour and divergent forms suggesting water, and creating complex, sometimes violent movement.
While it could be conceived that the peaceful subjects are merely floating, the title of the series ‘Dead in the Water’ defines it as something a little more sinister. Strong, darkly constructed outlines sounding the faces create the appearance of death masks, adding even more credence to a darker theory.
Though one can discern allusions to the Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece ‘Ophellia’ by John Everett Millais, this work alludes to a position more current and discussions more critical.
As a woman in society dominated by men, Ophellia had few choices in life, Hickson paintings have a new contemporary language that leave no room for such misunderstanding. No longer is the female body an object to view; it has become a vehicle to express ideas and emotions and to ignite introspection about the viewers own ideas and emotions surrounding body image.
There is nothing more compelling to support this statement than a series of five charcoal and pastel drawings, interestingly under the collective title of ‘Vulnerable’. Again the extraordinary talents of Hickson are self evident in these torso self portraits.
Sleep or death? A notion that cannot be easily answered, as the figures could be very much alive, engaging in various semaphoric forms of communication, or frozen in oblivion.
Oblivious of onlookers, fending off or waiting for the arrival of imaginary demons, there’s a regal attitude that brings back the strength of self awareness. The dichotomy created by the addition of needle and thread can only be considered as delicious. A contradiction or perfectly planned connection that links these works to a time before the females artist could shoulder the burden of self expression.
In a 2007 paper, ‘Feminist Art and the Self Portrait’ by Lydia Vasko, the author ends with a quote by Marsha Meskimmon, please indulge this writer by appropriating that idea.
‘Throughout the century, women artists have been appropriating, inverting and challenging the modes of self-portraiture which reinforce the masculinity of the artist in both myth and history. This has been been a necessary exercise for women who wish to represent themselves as the ‘artist’, since the standard means by which this was signified, were defined in ways exclusive of women. In some cases, it was enough merely to show yourself with the tools of the trade, to subvert convention and declare yourself an independent woman. At other times, more active parodies and pastiches of the tropes associatedwith the artist myth were needed to find a place from which woman as artist could speak. Whichever task was taken, women’s representations of themselves which engaged with artist definitions altered those definitions and the very ways in which self-portraiture as a genre can be read.
It is because the women were expressing concerns close to their hearts, their work, whether poetic or conceptual, carried an air of integrity and authenticity, which has I believe, sustained its use as a method of feminist expression today’