Calvin Robert Hicks received his first box camera from his father and grandfather when he was in elementary school, and from that point on he was either taking pictures or taking the camera apart.
Hicks was born March 19, 1941, in Mt. Carbon, W. Va., to Hazel and Lawrence Hicks, the second child of four boys.
He died on Sunday, May 20.
He attended Simmons Elementary School before the family moved to Charleston, W. Va., in 1955.
After graduating from Boyd Junior High School and Charleston High School, where he participated in track and field, varsity basketball and also joined the Spanish Club, Hicks earned a bachelor of science in art education in 1965 from West Virginia State College. He would go on to use that background to work as an art instructor at Herbert Hoover High School in West Virginia where he taught fine arts, painting, drawing ceramics and art history.
In 1968, Hicks and his first wife, Linda McCormick, and their daughters Sheli and Elizabeth, relocated to Los Angeles, where he was employed as a deputy probation officer with Los Angeles County.
In his off hours, he painted and continued his photography. He studied photography and other media at the Inner City Cultural Center, Los Angeles Trade Technical College and, from 1984 to 1986, at Otis Parson Art Institute.
Hicks recognized that there is no art without the business of art. Consequently in the early 1980’s, he and fellow artists Donald Bernard, Donald Anton, Andy Garcia and Willie Middlebrook opened The Visionist Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Later Bernard joined him in opening a photographer’s dark room and studio space in Inglewood. He was also a member of the Bunker Hill Arts League and did exhibitions there 1980-84.
Still, Black photographers found it difficult to find venues to exhibit their work, which led to the formation of California Black Photographers. One year later, in 1984, Bernard, Roland Charles, Gil Garner and Hicks opened the Black Gallery.
Located in the Crenshaw district’s Santa Barbara Plaza, it became a significant center in the local arts community, providing exhibitions ranging from juried shows to jazz photography for 14 years.
One of Black Gallery’s most popular exhibits was “The Nude: Classic and Conceptual,” in which Hicks was one of the featured artists.
In addition, his work has been featured in several fine art publications–Deborah Willis’ “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present,” and the recently released “Identity & Affirmation: Post War African American Photography,” published by the Institute for Arts and Media, Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN).
He is featured in Bill Sallet’s 1986 video documentary “Black Photographers of California,” and his work appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, ZYZZYVA Magazine and graces the cover of several books. A project of which he was most proud is the collaboration with nine other photographers on the exhibition and book, “Life in a Day of Black L.A.: The Way We See It,” published in 1992 by UCLA’s Center for African American Studies and the Black Photographers of Los Angeles.
Hicks believed it to be the first publication to deal specifically with the work of West Coast Black photographers.
Numerous galleries and museums around the country also exhibited his work as part of group shows, including CSUN’s Mike Curb Gallery in the Identity & Affirmation, which was part of the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. Project.”
Hicks is survived by his wife, Joyce Elaine, brothers George and William, daughters Sheli Arnold and Elizabeth Barrett, stepchildren Bryan Rice, Maria Rice and Denise Grimes, grandchildren Ashley, Devin, Jordan, Rashaad, Devonna, and stepgrand children Aubrey, Marc, Andrianna and Dorian, and great-grandson, Anthony.
Among his final instructions to friends and family was to celebrate with some Miles, Monk, Mozart, and a glass of wine.