The Fourth Wall
Combining aspects of drawing, painting, still-life, geometric abstraction, collage and performance with sculpture, artist Roland Hicks will transform two galleries at Hastings Contemporary this autumn.
Working directly on sea-facing walls, Hicks will create the illusion of a flimsy patchwork of found materials, as if someone with rudimentary carpentry skills had hastily assembled a barrier out of whatever came to hand, inviting visitors to interpret the result as they see it themselves. Is it merely an act of folly? Perhaps an inadequate response to rising sea levels, or a paranoid reinforcement against supposed invaders? Some onlookers may see The Fourth Wall as a comment on the need for ‘make do and mend’ resourcefulness during the cost of living crisis, or a critique on consumerism and wastefulness.
Hicks will create The Fourth Wall in two phases, the first in Hastings Contemporary’s Gallery 7, with the second taking over an entire wall in Gallery 6. The preliminary stage begins by marking out a geometric design, then masking off and painting different shades and colours to suggest different doors, panels and other materials that could be used to fashion a maskeshift barrier. The process of adding details then continues until the illusion of a ramshackle assortment of found materials is complete.
“The Fourth Wall refers both to the literal description of the number of walls in each room, as well as the theatrical tradition of breaking the illusionary fourth wall between a stage and an audience. During the initial part of the show the public will still be able to see some of the creative processes involved taking place – at which point I will be both building and breaking the fourth wall simultaneously,” Hicks explains.
He adds: “All illusionistic art involves some kind of deception. These walls will effectively be built from misinformation and misdirection.”
His work often includes playful, art historical references and homages to influential artists and movements, normally 20th– century geometric abstraction. Here, visitors might detect a sense of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) and his Elterwater Merz Barn (1947-8) – which incorporated found items into a Cumbrian stone barn’s end wall and Robert Rauschenberg’s (1925-2008) Combines – which as their collective title suggests were a series of freestanding and wall-hung mixed-media pieces created between 1954 and 1964.
Hicks has also made three new totemic sculptural artworks which appear to be made out of discarded planks from the distinctive fishermen’s net stores on Hastings’ Stade, beside the gallery. About these, Hicks states: “I’d been struck by the black, light-absorbing surfaces of the huts, which reminded me of charcoal. This seemed appropriate for an exhibition that had its roots in a drawing prize.”
The Fourth Wall will certainly be ambiguous. Enigmatic even. As Hicks says: “I definitely prefer art that keeps asking interesting questions rather than trying to offer up easy answers or obvious explanations. Though, if I had to pin it down, I think I’d say that this show, like the rest of my work, probably all revolves around the slippery notion of ‘truthfulness’, both in art and life in general.”
The Fourth Wall is the outcome of the £10,000 biennial Evelyn Williams Drawing Award made in association with the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2021 exhibition. Roland Hicks was the recipient of the Evelyn Williams Drawing Award for his drawing Double Chip/Shuffle Zip in coloured pencil and acrylic gouache on paper cut out and his accompanying proposal to transform a gallery space at Hastings Contemporary. The Evelyn Williams Trust supports the biennial award, which is delivered in a collaboration between Drawing Projects UK, the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize, and Hastings Contemporary.
Download the press release here.
Main image: Roland Hicks, The Fourth Wall, 2023. Photo by Pete Jones.