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Philip B. Hicken (Boston and Nantucket, 1910-1985)

A Rediscovered Master Colorist

Selections from the Estate Collection

We are honored to present an extraordinary selection of works from the estate of the artist,

most of which have not been shown for more than 30 years.

Biography

 

Philip Burnham Hicken (1910-1985) was a painter, printmaker, and educator who lived and practiced in Massachusetts, much of it in Boston and on Nantucket. Hicken’s teaching career began after his discharge from the Army after World War II.  Over the next years he was a painting instructor at Boston University and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and was Chairman of the Department of Design at Boston School of Art, which later became The Art Institute of Boston. He is known as a master colorist, both in his paintings and in his silkscreen prints.

His memberships and affiliations included the Boston Arts Festival, Boston Printmakers, Cambridge Art Association, Royal Society of Art, Cummington School, Boston University, the National Serigraph Society, American Artists Congress, Boston Watercolor Society, and the Artists Association of Nantucket.
His works were exhibited nationwide and his work is held in the collections of numerous universities and museums. He was instrumental in developing the modern screenprinting technique and he received international acclaim and many awards.

Hicken was an integral part of Nantucket’s art scene from the 1960s through the mid-1980’s. He mentored and influenced a great number of well-known Nantucket artists. He spent his final years living year-round on Nantucket with his wife at his 23 Pine Street home and studio until his death in 1985.

He is widely known as a silkscreen artist, and his career as a printmaker began in 1928 in Boston with

a four-year apprenticeship to Forbes Lithography Inc.   At Forbes, Hicken was required to draw such diverse realist subjects as Civil War battle scenes and portraits of George Washington.  This classical training with a commercial lithography firm led to Hicken’s participation in the WPA’s easel and mural project.

Starting in 1936 he worked on a number of projects for the WPA including a mural depicting the life of John Brown for an Army Chapel, paintings and watercolors, and a small number of silk screen prints.

It is not known just when Hicken became interested in silkscreens, but it was his preferred technique for the rest of his career – there are no prints in other medium extant.  His best friend, Edward Landon, was a silkscreen artist and by the late 1930’s both men’s style had developed towards abstraction.

In 1940 Elizabeth McCausland organized the first exhibition devoted entirely to silkscreen prints at the Springfield Museum of fine Art, and included works by Hicken, Landon, Gottlieb, Harari, Olds, Velonis, Lozowick and others.

Silkscreen printing continued to be Hicken’s main interest until he was drafted in 1942, becoming an army artist working on teaching training aids.  With the invasion of Northern Europe in 1944 he was assigned to Patton’s Third Army.  He recorded his impressions in sketches and watercolors and later made several silkscreen prints based on these sketches, including “Nurnberg, V.E. Day” and “Maquis Funeral”.  After the 3rd Army liberated Nurnberg he ran a small art school for the G.I.’s in the war torn city.

 

He continued to create prints until well into the 1970’s, with a total output of over 100 works.  

Hicken may well be the longest practitioner of the screenprint process, and perhaps its most prolific.