Artist and Teaching Residency for West Nottingham Academy - Part 2

By Jacob Hicks (MFA 2012) 

My experience at West Nottingham Academy has been one of learning in many regards.  Along side my time working in the studio, I teach two high school courses-an introduction to drawing and studio painting.  To teach is to become firm enough in your artistic practice to share it.  It calls for a re-examination of formal and conceptual principles and applicable history.  Art is such an ancient and expansive field that it is hard to imagine any other mode of thought not relevant to its understanding, i.e. science, literature, music, mathematics, religion, etc.  To say the task of infusing its vast wealth into young minds is daunting is to not dabble in hyperbole. 

West Nottingham Academy embeds its pupils in a program that teaches the values of creative art, exposing them early on to the richness of the practice. Students in my introduction to drawing-freshman and sophomores-mostly came in as clean slates, with little to no guided study. My task became setting a precedent of enjoyable learning.  I wanted to make it rigorous yet fun so that the children might become converts to its ways and not end up with future disjointed memories of art fused with disinterest.

The first lesson, and one of my favorites so far, was a practical study in analytic and synthetic cubism.  Cubism is a 20th century art movement, the visual equivalent of a parallel advancement in the sciences-relativity.  Advancements rarely populate single territories, but spread across all of the humanities; there are cubist poets as well as modern authors who used verbalization to express similar revelations of the period, just in different mediums.  To help my pupils grasp an abstract concept, I created a studio exercise.  Each chose a partner and cycled between posing for and drawing one another for ten minute sessions.  After one round the original pose was again taken, but each artist worked from a new viewpoint.  This second perspective was layered upon the previous, thus illustrating multiple vantages of a single object, effectively fragmenting its stability.  This is the nature of analytic cubism.

After several rounds of perspectival layering, the students then collaged words and images on top of their works.  Like the synthetic cubists, the students playfully mixed and matched the medium of text with that of drawing, collaging together various modes of thought and expression.

Each week we work on a new project, and included are pictures of some of the most successful works.  (I have also included a photo of the painting I am making while my students work.)

My painting students have had more experience, being juniors and seniors who have taken several semesters of art.  Most of them, however, have not had much experience with oil painting.  I designed the course to teach the students the principles and craft of oil painting from start to finish, through canvas construction and surface preparation to indirect and direct painting application, all based on various modes of historical practice.  The students work on a single composition throughout the course; so far they have created the surface-gessoed canvas on stretchers, composed the drawing, painted the drawing achromatically, applied generalized dead palate color, and are now working to finalize the image with multiple glazes and layers of full chroma.  I asked that each composition include a subject and environment and elements of the imagination.  This course is far-reaching in that it introduces and explains painting material and its history, the principles of design and composition, tonal structure and drawing,  intensive color-theory, and the use of oil medium directly vs. indirectly.  

Each student is asked to meet painting progression deadlines, contribute during critique of one another’s work, and present analysis on old master compositions of their choosing based on all of the formal, material, and historical information we cover. 

We have a way to go before the class concludes with a student organized show in the school gallery, where we can celebrate everyone’s achievements.  I must say, all the work is definitely paying off; I have included some shots of the paintings in their current states.

I am having a wonderful time not just teaching, but learning daily from my students.  Each subject they choose to represent sets me on an experimental hunt alongside of them to find the clearest, most luminous way to embody it.

##Jacob Hicks (MFA 2012) will be blogging here throughout his artist residency at West Nottingham Academy, Colora, Maryland about his experience.  If you have any questions for Jacob, please leave them in the comments section of the blog. 
All photographs taken by Jacob Hicks.

Artist and Teaching Residency for West Nottingham Academy - Thus Far

My excitement could not be tempered as my father helped me load up a U-haul rental with my current body of work in the early morning hours of an overcast Brooklyn morning.  I had received my Joseph Campbell-esque call to new adventure in the form of an artist/teacher-in-residence acceptance phone call from West Nottingham Academy a few weeks prior, but now the moment of action was upon me. 

Durga (in progress)
West Nottingham Academy has a special relationship to New York Academy of Art in that our highly respected senior critic Eric Fischl was an alumni of the boarding high school (which just so happens to be the oldest institution of its kind in the nation).  Mr. Fischl decided to construct a bridge between the Academy and WNA to provide an enriched artistic program for the high school and a funded opportunity for selected Academy alumni to gain a trimester’s worth of teaching experience and a sheltered, quiet space for art production.
As my father and I pulled onto and off of busy city-scenic highways (I myself having forgotten the burden of traipsing giant automobiles through urban asphalt labyrinthian webbings; I am strictly publicly transported these days), painting and drawing projects that could finalize the syllabi for my two classes popped in and out, on and off in my mind, like interstate entrance and exit signage or traffic lights. The program to which I was headed was to provide room and board, three wonderfully well-cooked meals a day, a beautiful three-windowed studio space, a solo-exhibition, a generous stipend, and two studio courses to teach five days a week for the duration.  I want to make clear the immense benefits of this for current and future alumni, because the program is available for you to apply to every session, and three alumni total are awarded the residency every year. 

Upon arrival in a lush rural landscape, overgrown with the stunning type of nature I didn’t yet realize I yearned for,  I met Trish Kuhlman, head of WNA’s art department.  Trish, an immensely talented painter and teacher, whose care for and responsibility to her students goes above and beyond the call, introduced me to faculty, staff, and students.  Everyone showed (and continues to show) me such hospitality and welcome that I immediately became convinced I serendipitously turned up in some type of cinematic vision of paradise, where community is close and caring, where nature exhales a majesty that I then breath, where education unites and illuminates. 

My father and I, elated and hopeful, unloaded the truck.  Within the next two days we hung my show, the gallery being a beautifully open space in the main school building, and the proud owner of an authentic Foucault Pendulum, an early mechanical device that legitimized the theory that our Earth was in orbit (I could have believed the theory without the device, seeing as how my world never sits still for too long).  


I have now settled in and have moved through several wonderfully fun projects with my classes, all the while contentedly working along on my current composition.  Still, only two weeks have passed!

I fear the difficulty will now be for WNA to pry me loose at the end of my trimester, for I have fallen in love with this intimate, beautiful rural oasis.

Jacob Hicks (MFA 2012) will be blogging here throughout his artist residency at West Nottingham Academy, Colora, Maryland about his experience.  If you have any questions for Jacob, please leave them in the comments section of the blog. 

All photographs taken by Jacob Hicks.