Gary Hanks: Going Beyond the Literal


AP_Portraits-7363_ABY Sherri Thomas

Gary Hanks’ watercolor paintings are easy to identify. He has a unique style of depicting sea and landscape scenes with a misty, dreamlike, ethereal quality. An example is a watercolor painting currently on Hanks’ easel. It shows a ghosted image of a ship sailing through rough seas at night. The ship is veiled in a mist that is illuminated by the golden light of the moon. This painting and others may seem like a memory of a place you yourself may have visited, either in life or in a dream. However, these are all places from Hanks’ mind.

“I’m very much working from my imagination,” Hanks said “my own private dream world.”

Hank’s paintings are also from years of studying water, clouds, and the effects of light.

“In the sailing ship painting,” Hanks said “the concept is from a night sighting in the country where I observed the clouds forming under a full moon. I made a mental picture and brought it back to the studio where I built it into a sea picture. I’ve done a lot of studies of water from reality, but it’s kind of a Zen-like approach where you look at it for two hours and then paint it in 10 minutes. You draw and color in enough water in your sketchbook to the point where you ‘know’ water and can simply paint it in.”

Hanks has created many highly rendered sketchbooks which he uses for reference and pulls elements from them to use in his paintings.

AP_Hanks5“Normally, I never work from literal interpretation,” he said “in my sketchbooks, I might do an interpretation of a fox and put him into another setting. The paintings are amalgamations of several ideas being put together in my own way.”

Using opaque and transparent watercolors, his process involves multiple layers of glazing. He paints the first glaze of color and then uses a unique binding medium to hold the color to the paper so the next glaze sits on top the first color instead of soaking into it.

“I get the misty effect by applying many, many layers and then I soak and layer again.”

One of the sea paintings he’s working on has seven layers of glaze and will have many more before the painting is finished.

Hanks started painting with watercolors in college. Originally he painted abstract images, and the mythical, mysterious landscape imagery developed later.

Three years ago, Hanks began creating paintings of ancient castle interiors. It was in graduate school where he studied medieval architecture, traveling to France, England and Italy to study gothic art and architecture, but it was the Romanesque style, with its heavy columns and rounded arches that most inspired him. This preference is evident in his latest paintings depicting multiple angled stairways and walkways which are supported by large stone columns and arches.

Hanks has a degree in art education and art history, and taught art at Menasha High School for 30 years, before retiring in 1998.

People often ask Hanks if there’s a spiritual component to his paintings.

“The art I want to create goes beyond the literal,” Hanks said “it’s getting into the spiritual realm of the things that are unknowable. I’m thinking ‘spiritual’ beyond any particular religion. I like to include mist in my paintings to suggest the mystery and I like to work with illumination. I find there’s a lot of power in providing a light source, even if it’s not directly in the picture, but coming somewhere off the painting. It’s a mystical effect with the mist and the light source filtering through. Those are things I like to go for. If I can lift the human spirit a little bit, draw the view in, to my mystical vision, that’s my purpose.”

Gary Hanks’ work can be seen at several galleries and exhibitions:

The Hardy Gallery’s 53rd Annual Juried Exhibit in Ephraim, Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, Washington Island Art Association Show in Door County, The Hang Up Gallery of Fine Art in Neenah and the Atlas Coffee House in Appleton. Visit

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top