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Marble Falls woman discovers her inner van Gogh with a year-long project

Catherine Hicks works on a project in her studio. Hicks began exploring her artistic vision a couple years ago after her youngest son headed off to college. She uses a variety of media in her art including paints and yarn. One of her latest includes gold thread and yarn for her play on Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss.’ Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — When Catherine and Bryan Hicks’ youngest son, Duncan, headed off to college, Catherine was in a place she hadn’t been for almost two decades — home without any children.

“Your kids, they make up such a big part of your life, so when Duncan left for college, I started to wonder what I would do with that time,” she said. She helped with Brian’s law practice, but she had days with a lot of free time.

Catherine entertained the idea of getting into art. Though she enjoyed art in her younger days, she let it slip through her fingers as life brought about marriage, careers and children. Now in her mid-50s, Catherine thought about creating a place in her life for art.

“There’s still so much to life,” she said. “I wanted something that really gave me a reason to get up out of bed and get going, not just move through the motions of the day.”

But anyone who tries to reinvent themselves or learn a new skill, knows the challenge is daunting. It’s sometimes easy to begin but not so much to continue. Catherine understood this, but she came up with an idea to hold her fingers to the fire, so to speak.

“I needed to commit to myself by making this public,” she said. “I needed to teach myself to paint, not how to take lessons. And the one way I thought of doing that was blogging about what I was doing and publishing my art.”

She came up with the Vincent Project, a 52-week commitment of painting and art study, focusing on Vincent van Gogh. She chose van Gogh for several reasons — one being that he started painting later in life, something to which she could relate. Also, he wasn’t a “natural” artist but had to work at it.

Her goal was painting 52 works over a year, blogging about them and — this is the big part — publishing them on her blog at www.vincentproject.blogspot.com.

“I didn’t give myself the possibility of washing out,” she said. “And it’s not like my blog was well read, but I had made this commitment, and I needed to stick with it.”

Every time she painted a new piece of art, she blogged about it and the story behind it as well as publishing the art itself. She admitted sometimes, especially now looking back, some of the works were, well, not exactly art worthy.

“There were some laughably bad paintings, especially at the beginning,” Catherine said.

But with each piece, she learned a bit more, grew as an artist and shared her journey. She even had to learn how to blog.

Toward the end of the year, she found herself a bit behind the “painting count” thanks to her and Bryan moving from their Mormon Mill house to an apartment overlooking Main Street in Marble Falls (which included a bit of downsizing.) Catherine finished the project at a rapid pace.

Looking over the 52-week period and project, her art grew. Even at the end, Catherine understood her artistic journey was actually just beginning, but it was off the ground and going.

But with 52 weeks of van Gogh under her belt, she realized it was time to move on and explore other forms and media.

“I thought, ‘What else can I do?’” Catherine said.

So she looked around at what she had available and began working with fabric and ribbon.

“I just started horsing around to see what I could come up with,” she said

Catherine tried this, experimented with that, stepped back at times and thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” Some pieces worked, others, well, didn’t. But she just kept experimenting and creating. Instead of following a formal art style, Catherine preferred letting her mind run and her fingers follow. This led to a mix-media style of ribbon wrapped around on itself numerous times, creating a three-dimensional form. One of these became “My Own Private Heisenberg,” which, along with several other of Catherine’s pieces, earned selections into several juried art shows in 2013 and 2014.

As she hung with her only art rule being “create something every day,” Catherine kept growing as an artist and looking at new ways to make art with other media and materials. During an art history class at Austin Community College, the instructor assigned students to make a self-portrait as part of their midterm.

Catherine cringed.

“Painting or drawing a self-portrait, well, it wasn’t something I really wanted to do,” she said.

But as Catherine began the process, she realized two things: Nobody said it had to be a painting, and she had a bunch of yarn lying around her studio. So, like before, she just decided to let her mind run and see where it took her. Her midterm featured a self-portrait created of yarn. This led to another yarn sel- portrait for the class as well.

As the classes began to wrap up for the semester, ACC put out a call to students to enter works in an upcoming show. Catherine submitted her two self-portraits and really thought nothing of it. During the show, Catherine noted that ACC had purchased several students’ works for its collection, but not hers. She wasn’t discouraged, knowing she really never created these to sell or even show.

But during correspondence with her art history teacher, Catherine learned ACC was interested in one of her self-portraits, but officials didn’t know if it was for sale. Catherine, however, told her art history instructor if they were interested, it was definitely for sale.

So in late 2014, ACC added Catherine’s self-portrait to the college’s permanent collection.

“I know it’s only ACC, but that’s how major collections start,” she said. “I was thrilled and surprised because I didn’t think anybody would be interested in my self-portrait.”

Her latest project is based on the painting “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. She’s not reproducing the work but came up with a twist off the original using gold thread she found in her studio. And her models include her son Duncan and his girlfriend.

“It may work, it may not,” she mused looking at the start on a black piece of fabric.

As for her artistic journey, Catherine believes it’s not about becoming famous (though, she admitted that would be cool) or making something everybody recognizes, but getting out there and creating.

“I was in my 50s when I decided to do this,” Catherine said. “If I didn’t do something like this now, that opportunity is going to slip away. I didn’t want to let it slip away.”

Go to www.catherinehicksartblog.blogspot.com to see some of Catherine’s works and read the stories behind them.

daniel@thepicayune.com