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Stencil Artist Logan Hicks Returns to L.A. With a Three-Day Show at LACE

Logan Hicks in his studio
Logan Hicks in his studio
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Fed up with constant road rage and homesick for the East Coast, stencil artist Logan Hicks left Los Angeles for New York in 2007. After living here for 13 years, despite the fanfare of Beastie Boys retailer X-large doing a "farewell collection" of streetwear in his name, the former professional screen printer hasn't looked back. Until now.

Hicks' first solo show in L.A., at LACE in Hollywood, runs for only three days, March 8-10. Largely self-financed, "Thin Veils and Heavy Anchors" will stage 35 new pieces, which are up to 24 feet long, crowned by a huge painting on the façade of the gallery.

That may not sound like a monumental task for a modern-day street artist, but Hicks' work involves, on average, 40 layers of oversized, hand-cut stencils and aerosol paint. Each piece starts from an original photograph he takes of an urban environment or a portrait of a friend. To make one of the stencils, the photo is scanned and then pushed to a certain level of contrast. The photograph then is printed out on card stock or film, and Hicks cuts (by hand or using a laser cutter) the material to match the image in the photo. The stencil then is put on the main artwork and spray-painted over. That process is repeated for dozens of layers. Sometimes Hicks etches detail back into the piece.

Yes, these intricate works do find their way onto buildings and spots outside — but don't call him a street artist. "I just make art," Logan explains. "No rules. Nobody ever aspires to be a street artist — you just go where you fit in. It's like punk rock."

Hicks finds comfort in architecture, subway tunnels and city exploration. His urban landscapes are sometimes haunting, including faceless, ghostlike figures. He uses sharp perspective and negative space to draw in his audience, creating "an environment you can walk into," he explains.

Hicks recently did a series of New York–at-night photographs during Hurricane Sandy's power outage, reminiscent of scenes from Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic book The Road. He photographed Soho's usually bustling streets and neighborhoods, now eerily silent and beautiful. In each one, he used a single source of light — in one photo, coming from an abandoned hot dog cart — that offsets the saturated black of the night. He auctioned off prints from this series, entitled "Lights Out," for the Red Cross. (Hicks and his family weren't directly affected by the storm.)

Originally from Baltimore, Hicks began as a silkscreen artist, doing what he now calls "lame" T-shirts for corporate companies. At night he held huge music and art parties in a loft building he co-owned with a group of friends. One fateful day he was perusing a copy of Juxtapoz magazine and discovered a young, stencil-loving punk named Shepard Fairey. Noticing they shared experience in screen printing, and liking the attitude behind Fairey's work, Hicks sent Fairey an email and soon started selling Fairey's posters at the Baltimore loft happenings.

Hicks moved to San Diego in 1994 and opened a gallery behind Fairey's BLKMRKT design business, which Fairey shared with fellow artist Dave Kinsey. Hicks eventually found San Diego boring — its art scene and its perfect, 72-degree days, even more predictable than L.A. weather. For an artist who already was enjoying moderate success, he found the stimulation and opportunity that Los Angeles offered a natural next move.

"Shepard signifies the starting point of my [art] career," Hicks explains. "He's the one guy who has seen me come up from lowly screen printer to someone who can make a living doing art. ... He was an inspiration to me without knowing it." For his new show at LACE, there will be a special catalog with a print in the back to mark the occasion, with a foreword written by Fairey.

Included in the new work for "Thin Veils and Heavy Anchors" are recent experiments with underwater photography and nudes. Also available are limited-edition screen prints that are exclusive to the show.

Because of the intricate process and the gargantuan sizes Hicks employs in his Gothic utopias, most canvases were scheduled to be finished in San Francisco the week before the show in L.A.

So why only three days? Part of it is his new representation, Pat Magnarella and Roger Klein, the music management guys behind Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls. For "Thin Veils and Heavy Anchors," Hicks chose to bypass the traditional gallery route of running a show for a few weeks, instead making an event of it. Although Hicks has been repped by galleries in the past, he's grown frustrated with that dynamic, and enjoys the freedom and support that this new business relationship allows.

"I found myself getting away from the art path that I wanted," he says, "doing things to please other people. The people you deal with in your career, you have to trust 100 percent and I found that. Sometimes artists accept that things have to happen a certain way, and it really doesn't."

And what does he miss about Los Angeles? Not much. "I'm from the East Coast," Hicks explains with a laugh. "I'm in love with the struggle. I need the seasons to push against."

LOGAN HICKS: THIN VEILS AND HEAVY ANCHORS | Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions | 6522 Hollywood Blvd., Hlwyd. | Through March 10 | welcometolace.org

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