Mysteries suite (1997)
Steve Hanks (b. 1947) is a contemporary American painter specialising in photo-realist watercolours, of which his fine nudes make up a significant part of his output.
Shining in the sun
Although he is perfectly able to render a pretty face (and all of his girls are attractive) in many of his paintings his subjects are turned away from the viewer. He argues that this means that the viewer of his work is not distracted by the features of the model and so focuses on the beautifully rendered bodies.
It brings a mysterious and distant quality to his images and also introduces a sensual feeling of voyeurism into his nudes.
Born in San Diego in 1949 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the California College of Arts and Crafts.
Hanks has a wonderful ability to capture the light and reflection on water, so occasionally we find his usually bed dwelling young ladies interacting with this element. This one, Morning bath, has an almost Alma-Tadema quality about it.
Much of his interior-set work leans heavily on chiaroscuro, which he uses to great effect to model his sumptuous figures.
Waking up (2005)
His mastery of the watercolour medium has led to many awards and prizes in the US including the National Academy of Western Art Gold Medal
Daylight's comfort (2000)
His originals are starting to fetch good prices. Daylight's comfort, a smaller (7x13 inches), looser watercolour sold in 2009 for $6,000.
In the light of morning (1996)
In the light of morning demonstrates his more polished photo-realist style. The fact that this is a watercolour is truly astonishing.
We actually prefer his slightly looser paintings, such as the one above, as perhaps, some of his nudes are just a little too polished.
At the edge of shadow and light
Indeed, at the back of our mind, and it is probably more to do with our outlook than his, some of his nudes are reminiscent in pose and lighting to those, equally voyeuristic in intent, nudes from Penthouse magazine in the late sixties. The curvaceous forms of his models (no small busts here) adds to their pin-up quality. However, he quite often finds his models by approaching them on the streets rather than using professionals. No doubt it is easier to find young ladies with such splendid proportions in California.
Interior view (1995)
Hanks uses watercolour as a medium because after having used oil paints for fifteen years he developed an allergy to them. He had to learn how to get the intensity of oil, particularly of skin tone, through layering watercolour; something he has achieved like no other artist we know of.
Seated Model (1990)
You can see the style develop from the more watercolor-like diffuse examples from the late eighties and early nineties to the richer colours of his style in the late nineties and beyond.
This is not to say that we don't like them; we do and would be happy to have one on our wall and not just because Hanks can paint a perfect posterior beautifully.
In fact, even more impressive, is is ability to model the complex contours of the back and shoulders. The light on shoulder blades, dimples and, particularly, vertebrae is all perfectly done.
After the shower (1987)
Perhaps my favourite is this one, Centered, which has the cool palette, timelesssness and lighting of a Dutch seventeenth century interior.
Comfort in solitude (2000)
Sunshine across the sheets
You can buy prints of Hank's wonderful paintings here. More of his tremendous watercolours another time.