Art is more than form of expression

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

The first thing I notice — the power of which only sinks in later — is the juxtaposition of the two still-life portraits. A young woman, freshly beautiful, sits on the step of an urban house. Oblivious to the observer, she is contemplating — what? The light informs us it is either mid-morning or late afternoon; her dress is adaptable enough to be almost anything — going to work, out on a date, even a modest lingerie. Much is left to the viewer — but her aspect and mood are clear.

Directly beneath her, the facade of a well-known church forms the backdrop as two elderly women cross the street, hand in hand, one of them with a cane. They help each other along; the portrait tells me they watch out for one another, they go to Mass together and then perhaps for lunch, where they visit over their children, their grandchildren, missing their late husbands.

The power is this…

Whether deliberately or not, the two works of art are related. Sixty years ago, the two grandmas were the young woman on the steps. Sixty years from now, she will be as they are now. Not a depressing thought, for life is a journey; we are not meant to be frozen in time. Bob Dylan not withstanding, we are not meant to stay “forever young.”

Another insight into life and baseball — the middle-aged man in umpire’s pads, mask dangling from his hand, sits on a bench and shares the accumulated knowledge of experience with a boy holding a bat, his son.

The umpire is the artist behind all of these works, Steve Hanks; the boy is his son.

My mind flashes back to softball practice a week or two ago, Jason saying to me “Dad, show me how to hold the bat.” Sitting on the bench of life, the two grandmas would have much to share with the young woman.

Steve Hanks, one of the premier artists working today, will be coming to Frame and Art Gallery from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The gallery is located on West 21st Street. The opportunity is to see, to meet, to talk with a man whose work is nothing short of incredible. I use that phrase because one would think these works were photographs, so fine is the detail and realism. They are not. Hanks works in watercolor and giclee.

James Woodall, co-proprietor of the gallery, gives us part of the secret:

“His models are people he knows. He doesn’t paint just anyone; he has to know you,and he puts your emotions in his painting.”

I used the phrase still-life portraits, which may not be technically correct, because Hanks’ portraits are happening in life. Everyday life in the 21st century is given beauty and dignity.

The other part of the secret is, I believe, hard work.
In the view of Linda Woodall, co-proprietor of the gallery, who has collected Hanks’ work for two decades, “It gives you a calming feeling … it talks to your emotions.”

To myself, and my own tendency to view things symbolically, a slightly different message — but not totally different. To you — well, who knows?

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University.
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