Studio Proof: Derrick Hickman explores memory through art

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

While perusing the plethora of art offerings at November’s Art of Recovery fundraiser that benefits Fresh A.I.R. Gallery, I came across a piece that literally made me stop in my tracks. The painting was donated by Derrick Hickman, a CCAD graduate living and working in Lebanon, Ohio, who often exhibits in Columbus. It was one of his text-based creations.

Once I spoke with Hickman about his art, I realized his approach was as complex as the elaborate formation of letters in these text-based paintings.

See, Hickman’s work, despite the subject matter or medium, is almost always an exploration of memory, including the text-based and vintage toy paintings he’s most recognized for.

“Originally I took personal stories, playing off myth and memory and how we try to take a point in our history and make it static — which is almost impossible because at different points … you reflect on it differently,” Hickman said.during an interview in a Grandview coffee shop.

Hickman understood memory is rarely truth. It’s why he jumbles the text, making only certain words or phrases legible, even if the pieces start out with complete narratives, from either Hickman’s life or others. (A couple years ago he began taking commissions to create text-based paintings for other people’s stories. Visit his website,, for more information on this process.)

For the vintage toy series of paintings, Hickman is again studying the way memory affects reaction.

“People see them, and they resonate because they had that toy as a child and it cues nostalgia. And that’s what they’re meant to do, which is kind of remarkable,” Hickman said. “I liked that idea, and how we’re trained to respond to childhood things, whether it’s through memories or perceived memories.”

Hickman points out that these paintings may bring back fond memories of childhood for the viewer, but they often forget how that toy rarely lived up to its billing. This is why he juxtaposes images of “Operation” (game) or the View-Master with “advertising promises,” and his own phrases that are more grounded in reality.

Hickman’s paintings are so visually captivating that it’ll grab the viewer’s attention instantaneously. So when that happens, take a moment and let a memory wash over you. Just don’t take it as verity.

Photos courtesy of Derrick Hickman