As a child, Hickory Mertsching was always drawing and painting. “I drew a lot of boy stuff like trucks, and even when I was a child, people seemed to respond to them,” he says.
Mertsching spent his early years in a log cabin in the Wisconsin woods near Lake Superior before moving to Washburn, Wisc. “Our cabin was really remote,” he says. “It didn’t have a TV or running water. If we wanted water, we had to use a hand pump.”
To study art, Mertsching enrolled at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where he received a B.F.A. in sculpture in 1996. “Initially I worked in bronze casting, but when I came home from work, I didn’t want to do sculpture, so I painted instead and eventually I focused just on painting,” he says.
Most of Mertsching’s paintings are still lifes done in oils on canvas. Summer (pictured) is part of a four-painting series in which each painting is devoted to a different season. To create his still lifes, he uses items from a collection of treasures he’s gathered over several years and keeps in the basement studio of his Portland home. “I’m always searching for interesting things,” he says. “I go to garage sales and places like that to find my props. Sometimes I’ll commandeer things from my friends. I’ve got a lot of animal skulls and antique tools. Many of the things I have are nostalgic in the sense that they’re objects you’d probably find a couple generations back.”
After coming up with an idea for a painting, Mertsching arranges and rearranges the objects until he is happy with the composition and then he creates a painting based on his observations of the scene he’s created. “There’s a natural excitement when the painting comes together at the end, when I see my conceptualization and the painted observation of the objects come together,” he says. “I like the intimacy of having the subjects right in front of me.” The 30-inch by 40-inch Summer is $900.
Contact painter Hickory Mertsching via his website, hickorymertsching.com.