The 4th of July – A Celebration of Art by Steve Hanks

So on this July 4th, when most Americans are celebrating that most American of holidays –  Independence Day – what are you doing? I’ve just finished watching a German girl, Sabine Lisicki slugging it out with a Polish girl, Agnieszka Radwanska, on some lawns with white stripes on them. Of course, this is another traditional event of July 4th. They call it Breakfast at Wimbledon, and it is a kind of warfare of a sport called tennis.

I’ll bet many Americans, by the end of the day, will have been to a beach, or went to a ball game, went camping in the woods, or went hiking , fishing, boating, or maybe played some golf or tennis. Then again, maybe they spent the day shopping, going to the movies, prepping for and  then having a picnic, a barbecue, or even a buffet brunch. To be followed by watching fireworks somewhere.

Then there’s web-surfing, which is how you came to be here if you are reading this webpage. One of my traditions for this website, is a celebration of Art on another traditional American holiday called Thanksgiving. This year I am inaugurating the tradition for our July 4th holiday. We’ll be looking at the art of Steve Hanks who has been recognized as one of the best watercolor artists working today.

Hanks has described his art:

Art comes from a deep inner sense of direction.

It starts with a re-evaluation of your own life, from a search for the source of the impulses and mystery of it all. I think of myself as an emotional realist. Emotion is what I want to portray. Realism is just my way of doing it.

Personally, I love Hank’s art. This is not the first time I’ve featured art by Steve Hanks on my pages – just the first time I’ve done so on July 4th. In this post, I will present a number of works by Hanks that appeal to me. There will be some quotes from Hanks about the particulars of some of the paintings as well as my own reactions.

Let’s lead with Reflecting on Indian Beach.


Hanks: “There is a big difference between the beaches of the Northern Pacific Coast and those down in Southern California. The surf rolls in over long shallow flats. The waves pound and boil for great distances, creating in the air  a thick moisture. This subtly diffuses the light creating an atmosphere palatably different from that on the beaches farther south.

I love the way the light is coming from the west and both of the models legs reflect this. I also love the details of her skirt as well as the intricacies of the reflections themselves.

Still finding the shoreline inspirational, the next one is called Time of Wonder.


Hanks: “What I like most about this painting is the way the overcast, misty sky affects the light and colors, like the clarity of the waves breaking behind the boy and the fog sitting on the mountains in the background. It’s a very solitary, magical place and this youngster is not standing still in this vast landscape. He’s moving forward.”

For me, this painting makes me recall my own early adventures on a sea-shore. So this is a nostalgic painting for me. Even though Hanks has presented this to us in our present, and the painting gives no clues about ‘when’ – it still makes me recall my own past.

Switching from sea-side to indoors we have Duet.

Hanks: When a child is learning a musical instrument, it’s difficult for the student as well as their family to patiently endure the practice time. The presence of the cat in Duet shows that practice has paid off and now the music is so comforting that even the family cat will stay around to enjoy it.

My images of children are about my hopes and dreams for them, and about my desire to expose them to the arts: literature, art, music, dance and theater. I want to encourage them to make decisions for themselves, to stand on their own two feet, to think for themselves and to reach for their dreams.

On first glance, and despite the title of the painting, I hadn’t even noticed the cat. My eyes noticed the ferns on one side, the flowers in the glass vase, and the way her hair is gathered. That’s the beauty of the art by Hanks. There’s so much to see, so much detail, that sometimes it takes a second or even third look to take it all in.


Back out-of-doors, we have On Shadows of the Past Runs the Future.

This is a tall and narrow work. The child is small and he’s running in a direction that take him away from us.

We are struck by his smallness, and the fact that likely, for this child the this stretch of sidewalk seems endless.  As if it was a journey without end.

But I am astounded by the details of the cobbled sidewalk, the tree shadows, and the simple thoughts that emerge from the painting.

I even appreciate the tread design on the bottom of his running shoes.

As I look at the art work of Steve Hanks, I can’t help but notice how light is a primary factor of the compositions. Of course, if there were no light we’d have a solid monochromatic all black painting. Obviously, that is not what Hanks is about.

Here is what Steve Hanks has to say about sunlight and how his works utilize the sun.

Hanks: “Sunlight has become one of my favorite subjects. I’m fascinated by how it filters through things, how it floods a whole room with color. Often my paintings are really more about sunlight than anything else.

I’m not sure that the last sentence is entirely true, but clearly that is up to interpretation, so I’ll have to agree with Hanks.


The next painting that we will offer for you is called Holding It All Together. Take a look at the work. Immediately we can break it down by the numbers:

2 people
3 dogs
2 balloons

Can you recall the breeds of the dogs, or the color of the balloons, or even the color of the woman’s knit top? Probably not. But that’s okay. That’s why we study paintings.

A quick glance gives you an idea of the concept, and can even charm and delight you. But it takes an in-depth look to put all of it into your memory. This painting also brings to mind for me many days spent walking in Central Park in New York. The vegetation was different, and instead of mountains in the background we had skyscrapers but the people, dogs, and balloons were nearly the same.

Our next Hanks work is called Shore Steps.

And that’s kind of ironic because the steps themselves are probably the last thing you noticed about this painting.

I noticed the blues of the sea and the sky, the brilliant light, and I wonder what has attracted her eyes as I follow the models gaze but there’s no clues about what she might be looking at. It is only after you are reminded that the title is Shore Steps that you finally determine that she’s sitting on the steps.

Our next painting on view is called Canadian Beauty.

Canadian Beauty

Check it out. A lovely woman in the foreground and across the water is the iconic Chateau Lake Louise. Hanks has commented about this work.

Hanks: “The title of this painting really says it all, Canadian Beauty. A striking woman with auburn hair relaxes at the water’s edge in mid-summer, with Chateau Lake Louise and the jagged snow-capped mountains in the background. The blend of serenity and majesty that this place radiates is awe-inspiring.

I love the amazing detail work that we see in this one. From the ripples in the water, to the pines, the waterside reeds, and to the ski trails carved out of the forests on the mountainsides. Then of course are the remarkably detailed reflections.


Leaving any kind of body of water aside, the next painting is called Field of Dreams. This is not a reference to the baseball movie of the same name. Instead it is a vertical painting of a young woman and a horse.

This painting is small and potent and carries a great deal of information if you look closely.

Of course there is no explanation as to why the girl has walked the horse into this field, but if you put that aside for the moment – you’ll notice some things that aren’t immediately apparent.

For example – the road running up to the mountains in the distance, the great detail work of the vegetation, and the personal closeness, even intimacies and trust between the girl and her horse. Just marvelous.

Hanks: This painting is about hopes and dreams that are shared and communicated in silence. Art can do that, too.

TodancebeforetheseaandskyThe next work is called To Dance Before the Sea and Sky. According to Hank’s comments – we can infer that this beautiful work is about a moment of joy.

Hanks: “I believe that art can be more than just pretty pictures. Art should bring comfort to people. It should be by our side when we go through good times and hard times.

Art should elicit a thought-provoking examination of one’s own life and place in the world.We all experience pain, but there are great moments of pleasure all around us too.

These moments may often be fleeting and get by us before we are able to fully comprehend their beauty and importance.

I have tried to capture a few of these moments in paintings that can be savored for years to come.

Two more to follow.

Gathering Thoughts is next.

Gathering Thoughts

I find this work fascinating. It is easy to see the white foam of the ocean, and the lighthouse in the background. Less easier to see are the intricacies of the dress, the color streaks of the model’s hair, and one more thing that is in plain sight but you still have to think of it – the down slope of the shoreline, and the little sand strips that the back flow of the ocean has not taken away. These appear in a repeating and receding pattern. And it is things like this that make me really appreciate Mr. Hanks.

Our last work for this July 4th celebration is called Young At Heart.

It looks like an older couple enjoying a walk along a country mountain road. It is not about the fact that they are elderly, or walking, or even where they’re walking. Rather the key element of the painting is that each of them have someone to walk with. That they can enjoy the companionship, the trust, the friendship and the affection that has lasted so many years.

Like those faces on Mt. Rushmore at the top of the page. Each of us want the solidity of companionship. Happy 4th of July everyone.


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