I grew up in Southeastern Idaho, surrounded by rivers, mountains, and artists.
My father, Don Ricks, and all three of my brothers, were--at one time or
another--professional artists. I was the only one who had resisted the urge to paint,
until just after September 11th, 2001. The New York attacks nearly swamped the
business which I had built. In response, I decided to become an artist.
My Dad was the son of a turkey farmer in Idaho and always
wanted to become an artist. After attending college in Idaho and Utah
he became a sign painter. It wasn’t until his late thirties that he chanced
to meet Russian artist, Sergei Bongart, at an art demonstration in Idaho Falls.
At age 16, Sergei was the youngest student to be accepted into the prestigious
Kiev Art Academy. Dad’s dream of becoming an artist was about to begin in
earnest. He and Sergei became partners, and established a summer art
workshop program in Southeastern Idaho. Dad loved Idaho because his
pioneer ancestors settled it. Sergei loved Idaho because it reminded him
of his beloved Kiev. Sergei named his summer home in Idaho Kievshina,
meaning, area around Kiev. My siblings and I grew up amidst this
strange and wonderful creative environment.
The love of art was always present with me. I began a career early (at
age 17) as a picture frame maker. My company created frames for
artists of renown from all over the country. Later, my desire to create
drove me to bigger endeavors, culminating in opening a show room
at 3rd and 57th street, in New York City. We were making mirror
frames and furniture for the design trade, and were experiencing
enough success that we felt we were ready for an office in New York.
Our firm had also completed several major architectural projects
including domes for religious buildings as far away as Brazil.
After 9/11, I re-evaluated my life, and resolved to make some changes;
most significantly, to become a painter. I have been actively pursing
an art career ever since.
My brother, Douglas Ricks, was in many ways my guide in the world of
art. My father passed away in 1996, and Doug followed him in 2003.
Doug had a great artistic sensitivity and a very extensive knowledge of
art and artists. He introduced me to the work of many artists who
would later inspire me to paint. The work of Russell Chatham haunted
my thoughts even before I knew why. Chatham had created his own
"paint language" which many of my artist friends found resonating
inside themselves. It was like having music playing so deeply inside
that you didn't even know that it was there. His work gave voice to my
own artistic urges and they began to simmer. They are still simmering.
And much like a great sauce, it is all about reduction and concentration.
George Inness's work has had a great influence on me as well. The
Russian impressionist style has filtered into my work.
In 2010 I had the opportunity to travel to Kiev to install mirror frames
that my company, Krieger-Ricks Framemakers, produced in the new
Mormon temple. I decided to spend six weeks exploring my family’s
artistic roots, going to art museums in Kiev and St. Petersburg.
I went to Sergei’s old academy and introduced his artwork to the
professors there. They were very warm and accommodating. I discovered
for myself what it was that caused Sergei to see his beloved Kievshina in Idaho.
Most likely, it was the rivers, the wheat, and perhaps the cold. Definitely the lilacs!
What I expected to find on my trip, was interesting landscape subjects for
my paintings. I was looking for what had inspired Sergei as a boy. One of
the Kiev Academy art professors, Ivan Pylypenko, quided me to many beautiful
places. The first day he took me to the Kiev Central Botanical Gardens. The lilacs
were in full bloom and you’ve not seen lilacs until you see them in Kiev. I was
stunned and overwhelmed! I stood there thinking of my dad and my
brother Doug, and I wept like a little girl. Also, I was contemplating the fact
that Sergei never returned home before he died. He was fearful that if he visited
home he would never be allowed to leave. So in the tradition of the Russians
I expressed my joy; with tears.
What impacted me more than the landscape were people both of
Ukraine and St. Petersburg. This left me with somewhat of an artistic
quandary because I am a landscape painter and was not qualified to
paint what my heart was asking for. I spent time almost every day
with my guide and interpreter Vladyslav Melnychenko. I told Vlad that
growing up in Idaho, I felt like Tom Sawyer prowling the river bottoms.
“Tom Sawyer?" he said, “'that’s what they called me!” Vlad had spent
his adolescent summer months camped on the river Islands, riding
rafts and chasing monstrous catfish. Vlad makes his living as a driver
with his own van. He was a former Soviet Navy man, riding the great
Dnipro River in Russian navy boats. When the Soviet Union fell, Vlad
literally had to escape his boat to make his way home. I captain my
own river boat, a sweet little McKenzie drifter. Life’s tides had brought
two river bottom boys together!
Life to me feels very much like a river, wherein strong currents and lazy
meanderings carry us along. We have no idea what lies around the next bend.
So we fear the unknown and we crave the illumination of light. Life is also
like a painting, in that it is all about the contrasts of colors and values. I love
to create a sense of light in my work, but the feeling of light emanates from
the shadow areas.
I’ll sum it up with a profound verse from Russell Chatham’s collection of short
stories entitled, Dark Waters. When I read this twenty-five years ago, I think
all that I saw was beautiful prose about where the big fish most likely were hiding.
Now, the meaning has been seasoned with a few good hard kicks to the teeth.
Thank God for loss, disappointment, re-evaluation, and the discovery which lies
waiting just beyond the well-lit path.
Martin Edwin Ricks
In the midnight Arctic seas,
stained tropical rivers at dawn,
the Gulf Stream at noon,
where thin shafts of light
chisel down into blue-black;
a small creek in evening shade
beneath willows and sycamores;
in northern rivers
in deep viridian hollows.
It is always the dark water
which promises the most.