Even though he is only a teenager, Thomas Hicks’s path has already been full of twists and turns. As an elementary school student, he aspired to be a banker–that is until he entered middle school and discovered a passion for the arts.
His first love was singing, but stage fright prevented him from being accepted into Greenville County Schools’ prestigious Fine Arts Center as a freshman. So he pivoted again and found his niche. “I started taking pictures on my phone, setting up scenes, and experimenting with light and composition,” he explains. “This inspired me to pursue the visual arts.”
When he applied to the Fine Arts Center as a sophomore, he was accepted. Thomas’s medium is still-life photography, and while he shoots primarily in digital, he also works with Polaroid and medium-format cameras. He enjoys finding beautiful places and setting up things around them, like fruit or other objects, to create unique compositions.
Thomas will be one of seven Fine Arts Center full-day students whose work will be featured in GCCA’s Community Gallery from May 7 through June 23. The exhibition will explore the definition of place. From themes like place in society to place in evolution, these advanced young artists will showcase how high school students view not only themselves, but the world around them. They will also take part in shadowing GCCA’s Gallery Manager, Ben Tarcson, to learn how to design a show.
Thomas’s work will be a collection of collages that include found materials and family images processed in cyanotype that he hopes will evoke a sense of nostalgia. “I want people to think about their own childhood memories and make new ones by putting themselves in the shoes of the people in the images,” he shares. “I have not been to many galleries before, so I am excited about this opportunity for me and my peers to see the potential of our work. It will be a great experience for our future careers to install these pieces and learn about that process.”
As to where his path will take him, Thomas says, “College is the goal, and I’d also like to get an arts internship. Longer-term, I see myself living somewhere pretty in the countryside practicing as a working artist, making prints of my work, and collaborating with other artists to create something special.”
Growing up in Juarez, in the border between Mexico and the United States, artist Tania Rodriguez Ortega (known as Tania Ro) learned to survive amidst chaos and the constant threat of violence by emulating the strength of the women in her family and the feminist artists and writers who motivated her to find success. Tania learned to work hard in the face of danger by following the mantra, “Do not live borrowed dreams”. As a young woman, she cultivated an interest in feminism and women’s rights with the influence of writers like Virginia Woolf and Elena Poniatowska.
In Juarez, she studied business administration and pursued an independent education in art history, drawing, and painting. “Saturnino Herrán and Remedios Varo are painters who inspire and motivate me to paint from observation,” she explains. “I consider observation the most important part of my artistic process.”
Indeed, the ability to appreciate her surroundings and find the beauty in intimate moments gave Tania the desire to form a new path as an artist when, eight years ago, she, her husband, and their small child moved from Mexico to Greenville. What Tania at first thought was the end of the professional life in manufacturing she knew in Juarez, became an opportunity to grow and pursue new talents in a new place.
She started taking classes at GCCA with instructor Diarmuid Kelly and soon found that painting became a way to share her worldview and promote change. Last week, Tania moved into Studio F at GCCA where she hopes to “create work that promotes the voice of women artists and is part of the continuous changes in Greenville and in the world.” Although it is difficult to start over in a new place, for Tania, a sense of community is vital and it is the desire to find a supportive community that brought her to GCCA.
A self-described “hobbyist painter” since her early 20s, Yvonne Julian signed up to take a watercolor class several years ago after hearing about GCCA from friends Jim Gorman and Carrie Burns Brown, and she hasn’t stopped since. In 2019, she joined the GCCA Board of Directors and is now Vice President, as well as an avid painter who is continually honing her craft. “The quality of GCCA’s product and the passion, commitment, and competence of the founders made me want to get involved,” she says.
As a girl growing up in Chicago, Yvonne dreamed of becoming a scientist, not an artist. “The first toy I ordered from the comic book store was a rocket ship you glued together, and I was always growing bean plants in the window of our high-rise apartment.“ she says. Yet she always admired her brother, who she calls “the family artist.”
Yvonne earned a college degree in chemistry and a Master’s in Business Administration before launching her career at Dow Chemical Co. in California, where she worked in manufacturing for many years before retiring and eventually moving to Greenville, SC. Her educational background has led to a keen interest in exploring the connections between art, science, and mathematics.
Yvonne is currently creating a watercolor piece she calls Prisoner of Time. “The painting addresses two ideas I find interesting—chronometry and inevitability, and also the appeal of a personal space for intellectual pursuits,” she explains. “The title conveys the passage of time as a resource we cannot get back or hold on to, and the image depicts a man chained to an hourglass.”
Yvonne believes art is a vital platform to share and express a variety of perspectives. When asked about her thoughts on the role of the arts in promoting racial equity and amplifying Black voices, she explains, “I think that the arts have had and can continue to have a huge impact in emphasizing the critical role that Americans who descended from slaves played in building the foundation of our country—whose contributions are symbolic of the American story and our country’s ideals.“ She explains, “GCCA should make people aware of a broader spectrum of Black American artists like James Van Der Zee, Edmonia Lewis, and Dox Thrash—to offer perspectives that they may not see in today’s mainstream Black art arena. As a community art center, it’s important to show artwork that depicts common experiences shared by people, particularly in certain regions. I shared some black and white photographs of people in Appalachia with my mother and she was shocked because due to segregation and being raised poor in the South, she had only experienced seeing poor Blacks and whites with means. She had never seen whites in a similar economic situation as the way she was raised.”