by Jim Mulligan
While his full-time job may be passing along the basics of his artistic and practical craft to students of all ages at Reedley College, David Hicks relishes in taking the bits and pieces of organic inspiration found in the Central Valley and creating both monolithic pieces and conglomerations of smaller parts with his medium of choice, inorganic clay. I had the chance recently to visit him in his Visalia studio where I peeked at the elements of past, present, and future works and had the opportunity to wax philosophically a little bit about cars, family, ceramic art, and life. Luckily, I have also had the pleasure of being a student of Hicks, which may allow me to share more than usual about him from that unique perspective.Hicks currently lives and works as an artist in his hometown of Visalia. He is married to an artist and art teacher, Lauren, and they have two daughters. He also works as a teacher; he has been a full-time ceramics instructor at Reedley College since 2015. While he grew up in the Central Valley and lives here now, his life and educational pursuits have taken him all across the country. After a few years at College of the Sequoias (C.O.S.), Hicks made his way to California State University, Long Beach, where he earned his Bachelors of Fine Arts in Ceramic Arts. He then made his way to New York state where he continued his ceramics art studies and earned a Masters of Fine Art from Alfred University.
Neither teaching nor even art was his first educational pursuit. Hick’s admitted, “I really like to argue, so I thought I wanted to be a lawyer.” He also remembers that his desire to share stories needed an outlet and at one time he wanted to be a creative writer. But words were not what conveyed his thought processes well. It was an English teacher at C.O.S. who noticed Hicks’ depth of thought in a paper, but also his lack of organization and terrible spelling and grammar. Hicks remembers, “She asked me one day where I spent all of my time. I told her I really loved being in the ceramics department. She said, ‘Then that’s where you need to be.’” Hicks never looked back.His written words may have lacked a little organization, but it is communication that dominates his teaching of the art and practicality of ceramics. Hicks is a master at this craft. He is also very talented at conveying his craft to his students. Whether one is naturally inclined to the skills needed at the potter’s wheel or as awkward as a cow on a crutch, Hicks’ demonstration and attention to step-by-step elements of working with clay inspire improvement in students. In addition to essential basic skills, he also quickly encourages students to let their imagination run wild. What one learns most about ceramic art though is that the solid, three-dimensional form is merely an extension of and inspiration for verbal discourse. Hicks prods his students to talk about their work and the work of their classmates. He wants them to see that their thoughts and ideas can be conveyed in other ways, not just by the conventional Roman alphabet on paper. It’s a concept that may be somewhat foreign to many, as it was to me when I was his student. What my classmates and I found is that, whether our projects were “beautiful” or not, they told a story that was within us that we’d never shared before.
Hicks’ personal ceramic artwork is like a magnifying glass of the fun-house variety. He notices the sublime, yet subtle, elements of the organic plant life of the Central Valley and captures a still snapshot in fired clay. But rather than a mere perfect enlargement of the subject matter, he creates a representative monstrosity that pulls the viewer in to explore nooks and crannies that may often go unnoticed in the real-life model. Those sharp corners and alcoves that proliferate his pieces pull double duty. Firstly, they present an exaggerated form of the leaves, twigs, and seeds they represent, and secondarily they serve as a playground for glaze, which Hicks admittedly loves to emphasize. Hicks says, “As I work, I ask questions on how glaze will move as it melts over the sculptural topography. I spend time thinking of the textural qualities and how they play with the eye and how they feel to the hand. I am in love with the skin of the sculpture.”Clay is the main medium with which Hicks generally communicates his thoughts, but his skills go far beyond molding the slippery soil component. He’s a talented welder and wood worker, skills that he learned as a youngster working with his father, a carpenter. He employs his metal and wood working ability to accentuate his clay work. When fabricating large, multifaceted composite works of ceramic pieces, Hicks builds the structure that holds it all together in perfect suspension. Often, wood and stainless steel are the elements of the assembly that he forms for display of ceramic pieces. His sense of style is also occasionally unleashed on other projects of form and function, namely, the classic Volkswagen. Hicks loves to proudly displays his totally customized Volkswagen Beetle that he has stretched, lowered, and unfurled into a lean, minimalistic dragster-style vehicle. Yet another tribute to his skills as an artist and manufacturer.
David Hicks is yet another example of the gems that exist at Reedley College. If you are interested in making your own set of china or creating abstract pieces only currently alive in your mind, Hicks’ classes are right for you. You will be able to learn the basics, and he will allow you to run with your creative ideas. In fact, he will likely spur you on and push you to go far beyond what you might think possible.Hicks’ work can be found in the collection of the Boise Museum of Art; Arizona State University Art Museum; US Embassy Art Collection, Washington DC; American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, California; KOCEF, Cerapia World Ceramics Center, Icheon, South Korea; and the Glory Hole Collection, Schien-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art, Alfred, New York; American University Art Museum at the Katzen Center for the Arts, Washington, D.C.
See more of his work at www.dh-studio.com.
Hicks’ next gallery show will likely be early next year at the Diane Rosenstein Gallery in Los Angeles: dianerosenstein.com.
Don’t miss the Reedley College Ceramic Bazaar on December 1, 2022, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Come enjoy the food, fun, and, of course, ceramic art for sale.
You can find more Reedley stories in our Reedley News section.