Steve Hanks, the premiere artist working today in the technically demanding field of realistic watercolor figure painting, passed away on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 from complications of treatment for cancer.
His astonishing realism came from a skillful control of washes, edges and layers, and his knowledge of the properties of water and pigment.
“Now I understand how to gain control by letting go,” he said in his 2006 book, Moving On. “I just want to be part of the ride.”
Although teachers often cited his artistic ability, Steve Hanks’ main interest while growing up around San Francisco was sports. As a young teenager, Hanks pursued surfing and tennis with passion and his spiritual connection with the ocean never left him.
After high school Hanks enrolled in summer session commercial art courses at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. He did well in his commercial art classes, but it was a life drawing class that captured his interest. He focused his energy on the study of anatomy and figure drawing and transferred into the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California. He graduated in the 1960s with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and then moved back to New Mexico in search of a home art gallery.
Initially, he drew in pencil and painted in oils. His paintings were impressionistic while his drawings were more realistic. Eventually, an allergic reaction to oils forced him to experiment with watercolors. Using the techniques learned from other mediums, he found he could create watercolors as “finished” as oils.
Jurors, galleries and collectors have long recognized Steve Hanks’ talent. He received the National Watercolor Society Merit Award and the National Academy of Western Art Gold Medal, in addition to consistently appearing in the list of top ten American artists compiled by U.S. Art Magazine. Art for the Parks has honored his work with many awards.
Deeply affected by the emotions, shifting attitudes and music of the 1960s, the music of Bob Dylan often accompanied Hanks as he painted in his studio. “I’m probably more affected by songwriters than I am by painters because I grew up in the sixties,” he said.
His paintings are much more than endearing images of women and children. Rather than conveying a specific message through his paintings, Hanks preferred to explore memories and emotions.
“All art is an escape to somewhere you want to be or a feeling you want to have,” Hanks said. “People see different things in my paintings because we all have different backgrounds and feelings.”
His highly collected nudes convey an introspective solitude that prompts the viewer to think about his or her own life and path. “Women occupy a special niche in my sensitivity. They express more storytelling ability. There’s more magic in them,” he said.
The emotional impact of these detailed and highly realistic paintings is stunning. Whatever the subject—children, families, women, nudes, landscapes, water, textile patterns—the paintings are also about light, shadow and emotion. They each reveal a personal challenge, pain, or joy of the artist.
“I want my whole body of work to tell a story when I’m gone,” he said. “It will tell the story of my life emotionally.”
Steve Hanks lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he raised his three children who were often portrayed in his art. His work can be seen on his official website at http://stevehanks.info/ He was represented by many galleries over his lifetime including Leslie Levy, E.S. Lawrence, Aspen Grove and SR Brennen. He was published in fine art editions by The Greenwich Workshop, Inc. in Seymour, CT.