Twins are undoubtedly cut from the same cloth, and it’s not uncommon for twins to be genetically predisposed with similar inclinations. But creativity is a subjective thing. So, how possible is it for twins to duplicate their creativity occupationally?
Aaron and Alan Hicks, identical twins from Chicago, have found a way to use their dual passion for art to honor God and celebrate their African American heritage. With virtually identical styles, the Hicks brothers create unique and inspiring images of favorite and lesser-known Bible characters, as well as wholesome, true-to-life depictions of African Americans of all ages. Through their company, Twin Hicks, the brothers provide illustrations for several of the Sunday school publications produced by UrbanFaith’s parent company, Urban Ministries Inc. (UMI).
UrbanFaith caught up with the talented brothers as they launched their newest art offering — the 2012 Faith and Hope calendars from UMI.
UF: What inspired you to become artists?
AARON HICKS: Our uncle Warren Hicks inspired us. I saw my uncle draw a picture of Muhammad Ali on a paper bag when I was in the 4th grade. I liked what he did and tried to recapture that. So I started drawing on paper bags, too. I did a little drawing in school, too.
ALAN HICKS:My uncle inspired me too, but when I saw what my brother did, I started copying him. I’d draw cartoons, comic book art—like what we saw in Marvel comics.
Jesus loves the little children.
UF: Having been raised in Chicago it would seem likely that you’d grow up seeing a lot of art around the city, with all the museums and such. So what kind of art did you experience as you grew up?
AARON: We grew up in the South Suburbs and didn’t really see a whole lot of art growing up. Our uncle was our mentor. He had posters, and some of the black light posters. Nobody talked about art history and such.
ALAN: We weren’t really aware of other types of art until we went to high school.
UF: It’s fascinating that you had limited exposure to art back in the early days, and yet you both developed a talent for art. How did that happen?
AARON: I never realized that I had a talent for art or that I was getting better at it until friends and other students mentioned it. They’d tell us that our work was really good. Even our teachers in grammar school mentioned it. We just picked it up really fast.
UF: Tell us about another great influence that has affected your art.
ALAN: I would have to say that John Cash, our high school art teacher, was a great influence as well. He really opened my understanding and enlightened us to other things. He took us to the next level and got us to create, instead of copying. We also got into art competitions because of Mr. Cash and developed accountability. Because of him, we took a class at the Art Institute [of Chicago] and eventually went on to win some art competitions.
AARON: I once did a portrait piece against 20,000 other entries and won 1st Place. It was a scholastic art contest and it really made me push to improve my skills as an artist.
UF: So things really started to take off for you in high school. How did you decide to study Biocommunications/Medical Illustrations in college?
AARON: I thought, what kind of job can I get with this talent? Mr. Cash told us about the program at the University of Illinois and it seemed right.
ALAN: Coming out of high schoolwe got a lot of negative feedback, but we wanted to continue creating art. Biocommunications was a growing field at the time and we believed we could find work in the field and still do art. Our training showed us that what some people think is not important, it really is important. After we got our bachelor’s degrees in 1985, we worked at Richard Rush Studios. And then we created art in health halls at the Field Museum where we worked on large 3-D exhibits of the heart — painting, sculpting and doing touch ups. It’s a joy to see our art go all across the U.S. in exhibits that teach children, in trade shows, and in murals. We also teach and that inspires children to pursue art.
Moses parting the Red Sea.
UF: You went from creating medical art to biblical and more personal, everyday images. Tell us how your faith moved you into this type of artwork.
ALAN: Faith is our base on everything we’ve done. We’ve been in church all our lives and came to Christ at age 13. I thought it was exciting to get visual images of what I read in Bible storybooks. When some commercial art companies started downsizing in 1998 we decided to freelance. God was in it and steering us from the beginning and we believe that God does everything well. In all our ways we acknowledge Him and He’ll direct us.
AARON: We’ve been in church all our lives and have never really seen many biblical images depicted at this level (from an African American perspective). Then people started approaching us about doing images from the Bible.
UF: Your art is unique and the depictions are so life-like. In your new calendars for 2012, we get to see images that may not have been done before, such as the woman with the issue of blood, found in the Gospels from Luke, Matthew and Mark.
AARON: We’re very excited about putting on canvas the stories that people talk about, but never have seen. Like Jesus walking on water, and Daniel in the lion’s den. The woman with the issue of blood is on the cover of the Faith calendar. We had been selling our prints to a company years ago and they put them into calendars. They liked them so much because they said our art looks more photo-realistic.
Hearts of worship.
ALAN: We’ve always wanted to portray images that inspire, uplift, and images that are positive. This is why we chose children as the subject in the Hope calendar. We created art that shows children pretending and playing dress-up in positive ways. We’re all about family. You can put these calendars up in a child’s room or anywhere. It reminds you of when you were young. We like artists such as Vermeer, Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Thomas Blackshear and others that influence how we capture images of real people.
UF: What’s in the future for Twin Hicks art?
AARON: Teaching art to children and maybe do a one-man show in a gallery. I’d like to paint more anatomy and fantasy, surrealism—using real bright colors— and some realism. I have to do some soul searching first!
ALAN: We’ll continue painting for the market’s needs to make a living, especially because there’s greater flexibility in airbrushing. But I’d like to get back to drawing with pencil, oil painting with brushes and creating more classic art.
UF: And as we close, what would you say to other aspiring artists?
ALAN: Continue doing what you’re doing. Don’t stop and practice every day. LeBron James and Michael Jordan practiced every day so you should, too. Keep cultivating your art and explore other mediums. It’s important to stay open.
AARON: I would say keep after your passion and don’t let anyone deter you. The more you do, the better you become. And remember, it’s good to experiment with different things to find your strengths and weaknesses. That’s why we did 3-D art; because we never really had experience with sculpting and shaping, so we learned.
Christian Hiphop’s finest graced Chicago’s New Beginnings Church on the south side at the #Misfit Tour last week. Here’s a freestyle, presented by UF! Interviews with Ambassador, Da Truth, Mali Music & More to Come!
TOO YOUNG: On Sept. 24, 2009, Derrion Albert became the innocent victim of mob violence as he walked home from school.
Two years ago, on Sept. 24, 2009, a mob of teenagers attacked and killed a young man outside a Christian community center on the south side of Chicago.
Derrion Albert, 16, had been an honors student at Fenger High School before his death. He died outside the Agape Community Center in Roseland, seemingly caught in the middle of a gang fight that had nothing to do with him.
Two years after Derrion Albert’s death, the youth violence epidemic continues in many inner cities. On Monday, Sept. 12, a family friend of Derrion Albert was shot and killed on the south side of Chicago. Alexander McDonald, 23, was the father of 2-year-old Jaylen. He was shot in the head on his way back from a funeral, cutting short his plans to graduate from college and marry his fiancée, according to ABC News.
The next day, 14-year-old Brian DeLeon was brutally beaten into a coma in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. His horrified girlfriend Dayana Vazquez found him bleeding on the sidewalk. She told the Chicago Tribune, “He didn’t talk to gangbangers. All he did was play soccer. He wanted to be a professional soccer player.”
And yet these stories are only recent examples of the daily gang violence in America’s inner cities, with traumatic repercussions for urban youth.
Ministering amidst gang violence
The Agape Community Center, part of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, has been serving the Roseland community for more than 30 years. Their staff came to Albert’s aid after the beating.
Milton Massie, director of Here’s Life Inner City Chicago, declined an interview, explaining that his staff wanted to put the tragedy behind them and move forward.
Massie wrote in an e-mail:
We have sought and have experienced some level of healing. The last two years have been very difficult and painful as you might imagine. I am not really interested in talking more about this tragic and sadly “normal” state of violence in our community.
We still believe God and HIS Gospel is THE ANSWER. We must remain faithful, prayerful, and willing to endure the “hardships” that come with ministry in the “urban context”. His message is not ineffective. We as many in ministry in the U.S. (urban, rural, and suburban) are dealing with the “waxing cold” of “mankind’s heart.”
It is our responsibility to “keep our face to the plow.” His message of love and discipleship found in the “Great Commandment” and the “Great Commission” (Matthew 22:38-40; 28:18-20) [is] still vital, powerful, relevant, and effective (Romans 1:16)! That is how we address plight of our neighborhood and those are my comments.
UrbanFaith has added links to biblical references.
In an interview with UrbanFaith editor Edward Gilbreath in 2009, Milton Massie said youth in the neighborhood were angry and afraid — angry because parents weren’t taking responsibility for their kids, and afraid that they could be the next victims caught in gang crossfire while going to and from school.
“That’s a lot to ask from a child whose primary focus should be just trying to learn, and enjoying being a kid,” Massie said.
Turning to Scripture
Faced with the youth violence epidemic, UrbanFaith turns to the Book of Isaiah for glimpses of peace and redemption during turmoil.
Isaiah 1:15-17: “Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.”
Isaiah 2:4: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Isaiah 58:9-10: “‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Here’s Life Inner City Chicago has prayer requests on their website.
How can urban ministries combat gang violence and help youth living in unsafe neighborhoods? What Scripture do you turn to for hope and strength?
TRUTH TO POWER: Father Michael Pfleger is equal parts activist and priest.
Father Michael Pfleger is not your typical priest. He has drawn media attention for his activism (protesting drug paraphernalia stores and alcohol advertising), evangelism (paying prostitutes to talk with them about how they can escape), criticism of the Catholic Church (he’d like to see women ordained), political rhetoric (once mocking then-Sen. Hillary Clinton at President Obama’s then-church—although he later apologized), and personal life (adopting three children). He’s the white priest of a predominantly African American congregation. He’s also a beloved leader in Auburn Gresham, a neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside that’s broken by poverty and gang violence.
Recently, Cardinal Francis George asked Father Pfleger to consider leaving St. Sabina Catholic Church to become the president at nearby Leo High School—a request that caused a dispute but eventually ended in a decision to prepare a transition plan for St. Sabina. In the Catholic Church, priests are normally reassigned after at most 12 years at a parish, but Father Pfleger has been allowed to stay at St. Sabina for the past 30 years.
In an interview on the Smiley & West radio show in April, Father Pfleger made it clear he didn’t want to leave St. Sabina and said he would “look outside the church” if forced to leave. Cardinal George suspended Father Pfleger from his duties a month ago, writing in a letter to Father Pfleger, “If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish.”
After conversations between the two, the cardinal reinstated Father Pfleger on May 20th, with Father Pfleger reaffirming his commitment to the Catholic Church in a statement and taking his place at the pulpit again that weekend. Both issued statements (found on the St. Sabina website) about their conversation and agreement. Although it’s not clear what will happen next, Father Pfleger said in his statement that he is working on a transition plan for St. Sabina to finish by Dec. 1.
Chicago Theological Seminary associate professor Julia M. Speller is a scholar of African American religious history who has led workshops on leadership at St. Sabina. She said the tension surrounding the Father Pfleger controversy comes from the “personality and methodology” he uses to serve his parish.
“He’s a very outspoken, unapologetic, passionate man,” Speller said. “Perhaps the way he lives out his calling makes people uncomfortable. It’s not the way the average Catholic priest might do it, but that’s the way he lives out his calling on behalf of his community.”
Speller said that Father Pfleger’s style meets the needs of his particular neighborhood. She said Father Pfleger preaches like many African American pastors, using stories and an emotional appeal to drive people to socially conscious actions. While many white Protestant churches tend to preach only to the head, Father Pfleger speaks to both the head and the heart, she said.
“In black churches and other churches that are socially conscious, oftentimes the sermon is an opportunity,” Speller said. “Get their mind and emotion and energy all combined, so when they leave the service they’re ready to do something.” (See a video clip of Father Pfleger preaching upon his return below, or watch the entire sermon.) Indeed, in many ways St. Sabina feels more like a traditional black Baptist congregation than a Catholic parish, which may also be at the root of the conflict between Father Pfleger and Cardinal George.
Speller said she sees St. Sabina as an example of parishes that have adopted the cultural expressions of an ethnic group, as Catholic churches have done throughout American history. She said the parish’s music and worship style are similar to that found in many African-American churches, only the ritual and theology is uniquely Catholic. “The same spirit is there, but it’s placed around the traditional experience of the mass and the Catholic Church,” Speller said.
Speller compared St. Sabina’s ministry to the spirit behind the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, since St. Sabina has encouraged lay involvement and collaboration between denominations. Ultimately, she said the cardinal’s decision to reinstate Father Pfleger reflected the Catholic Church’s support of his work.
“I trust that this decision was made in an effort to continue the dynamic work that was done in this community,” Speller said. “I trust that (Cardinal George) understands (Father Pfleger’s) compassion and recognizes the value Father Pfleger brings to that specific parish.”
By now, everyone knows this is the final week of Oprah Winfrey’s iconic talk show. And anyone who saw Aretha Franklin sing during yesterday’s broadcast of Oprah’s farewell celebration from Chicago’s United Center knows that spirituality is inextricably tied to the Oprah experience. In recognition of her last week on the air, Christianity Today has re-posted journalist LaTonya Taylor’s classic, 2002 “The Church of O” feature story about this Oprah’s undeniable spiritual impact on our culture. A few compelling pieces from the article:
Since 1994, when she abandoned traditional talk-show fare for more edifying content, and 1998, when she began “Change Your Life TV,” Oprah’s most significant role has become that of spiritual leader. To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a postmodern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality.
“Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope,” noted a 1994 Vanity Fair article. Indeed, much like a healthy church, Oprah creates community, provides information, and encourages people to evaluate and improve their lives.
Oprah’s brand of spirituality cannot simply be dismissed as superficial civil religion or so much New Age psychobabble, either. It goes much deeper. The story of her personal journey to worldwide prominence could be viewed as a window into American spirituality at the beginning of the 21st century—and into the challenges it poses for the church.