Artist of the Week: Rick Hamilton, No Pain, No Paint

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Rick Hamilton is the emblem of passion.

And, when we are talking about Rick Hamilton, our artist of the week, we mean passion it in its deepest, rawest, most etymologically rooted sense.

“Passion,” back in its Latin days of yore, originally meant “pain” – a word that has since evolved. But to get to where it is today, it had to crawl out of the ashes of Latin and trudge, for centuries, through Old French, in order to reach the lexical sanctuary of Modern English, where “passion” met Rick Hamilton, who honors all of its bygone battle scars.

So, it is with that passion we say: Rick Hamilton is the emblem of passion.

Hamilton is a quirky, up-by-the-bootstraps kind of guy. He is a self-taught artist who works in a loud and messy studio space. Although, after learning more about him, using the word “work” to describe what he does seems rather lightweight.  

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His sessions in the studio are extremely intense.

“Sometimes the struggle is physical,” says Hamilton. “I never sit when I paint, I often find myself in uncomfortable positions for hours. I chew on the sides of my mouth and my tongue when I paint. They bleed.”  

These sessions can last over 24 hours at a time.

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Life on The Upper West Side (48″x30″), acrylic painting on wood. 

“My ultimate satisfaction is when someone feels a personal connection to my art,” he says.

Though he works by himself, connection is his artistic purpose.

This is evident in his figural subject matter. His figures, often a man and a woman set against a smudgy, cool-colored background, share a distinct look. They are often thin and limby with gangling arms that dangle down from sets of sloping shoulders.    

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Immigrant (46”x30”), acrylic painting on wood.

“A lot of people ask me if I do any self-portraits. I answer that every painting I do is a self-portrait,” says Hamilton.  

But despite this emphasis on human figures, Caution Horses (48”x30”), the acrylic rendering of two long-legged, barrel-bodied horses, is what he refers to as “one of his most important” works.

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Caution Horses (48”x30”), acrylic painting on wood.

“Caution Horses,” as a title and concept were shown to him as a sign.

If you have images of this “sign” as a dreamy revelation miracles carefully tucked into the folds of Rick Hamilton’s brain tissue, that is not the kind of sign we are talking about.

The sign to which we are referring, the source of the title of his most important painting, came from a literal, on-the-go, back-of-a-bumper, sign.

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“CAUTION HORSES” is what the sign said to Rick Hamilton from the back of a horse trailer and the ideas took off, unbridled.

While others have guardian angels, Rick Hamilton has caution horses.

And, these caution horses rush in where angels fear to tread – the horsey heralds lend themselves to Hamilton’s passion-packed artistic process.

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“There is a part of me that knows horses are gentle and beautiful creatures; but, I feel they will crush me under their weight,” he says.

Horses, as Hamilton points out, have a certain element of danger, actual horsepower. Unlike their airy celestial counterparts, horses offer a fearsome weight –  literal gravitas — that entrenches a general anxiety.  

So in a way, they are not unlike Hamilton’s artistic process: full of power, aesthetic, formidable.    

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Detail of Caution Horses

As a rule, “there is no rule that I live by that cannot be broken,” he says.

And of course, true to his word, he breaks that rule too.  

He has a love for his children that is “unwavering and non-negotiable,” a father’s exception to a rule breaker’s rule.   


See more of Rick Hamilton’s work on UGallery.