Editor’s Letter | Watercolor Master

Remembering New Mexico painter Steve Hanks

By Kristin Hoerth

Statuesque [1990], watercolor, 40 x 20.

Statuesque [1990], watercolor, 40 x 20.

This story was featured in the July 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art July 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

The world lost a great artist when watercolorist Steve Hanks passed away in April at the age of 66. Hanks, who lived in Albuquerque, was widely known for his accomplished watercolor paintings, which almost always focused on people, especially children and alluring women.

He was first introduced to Southwest Art readers in 1986.Another feature appeared in 1995—a story Hanks wrote himself—just after his book Poised Between Heartbeats came out. He was profiled yet again in 1998, when he was the featured painter at the 
Gilcrease Museum’s annual Rendezvous retrospective exhibition and sale.

That was just one of many honors bestowed on Hanks over the years. Others included a Merit Award from the National Watercolor Society and a Gold Medal for watercolor from the National Academy of Western Art (the precursor to today’s Prix de West Invitational).

Hanks’ paintings unabashedly celebrate the female form. “Women occupy a special niche in my sensitivity. They express more storytelling ability. There’s more magic in them,” he said. And he told us in 1998, “Men aren’t seen as having a sensitive side, but they do. I use my paintings of women to communicate that side of myself.”

Steve Hanks, Statuesque [1990], watercolor, 40 x 20.

Steve Hanks, Statuesque [1990], watercolor, 40 x 20.

His widely collected nudes, in particular, convey a strong sense of introspection. The artist was always quick to respond to suggestions that these paintings were too titillating: “In classical times the male nude represented strength, courage, and power,” he wrote. “I prefer to express those same qualities by portraying a person’s inner emotional strength. That is why I’ve focused on the complexities and subtleties of the female nude. Respect, pride, and a sincere desire to show my gratitude for life have motivated me to paint the female figure. The depth of emotion the human figure can express is endless.”

That depth is convincingly conveyed through Hanks’ skillful control of his medium, particularly in his application of multiple layers of paint to create rich colors. His works are also noted for their intricate patterns, in which the artist saw symbolic meaning. “For me patterns represent a desire for unity in what often appears to be a chaotic world,” Hanks wrote. “Palm-frond shadows on a patio, the network of brickwork, or the repetition of fence posts act as a security blanket: They let the viewer know that all is safe and right.”

Ultimately, Hanks told us, his mission was a simple one: “My goal has always been to paint people of our time in a way that transcends time.”


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