ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Steve Hanks was a master in his medium.
That’s how friends and family remember the internationally known watercolor artist, who made Albuquerque his home for a big part of his life. He was especially noted for his portraits of women and children.
Hanks died Tuesday of cardiac arrest. He was 66.
As a true artist does, Hanks didn’t stop painting, though he slowed down tremendously when he was diagnosed recently with cancer and began chemotherapy.
“Once he started the radiation, it was difficult for him,” said his former wife, Laura Hanks. “This was a man that would spend 10 to 14 hours a day painting. He didn’t have any days off. Then he would only have an hour to paint, and he would get tired easily.”
Hanks was born into a military family in San Diego in 1949. His father was a highly decorated World War II Navy flyer, and Hanks grew up playing tennis and surfing along the beaches of Southern California.
The family was transferred to New Mexico when he was a junior in high school.
After high school, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in San Francisco and transferred to the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree.
Hanks experimented with many media – oils, watercolor, pencil, acrylics. But he found his calling in watercolor and became well-known in the world art community.
“He had a little edge to him,” said gallery owner Mary Ann Weems, who represented Hanks for years. “There are certain people who are born with the left and the right brain intact. This is why he was able to paint with such unbelievable mastery. I was enthralled by his work.”
Hanks called his style “emotional realism” as he often left the faces of his figures obscured or turned away. This was not only to leave the face to the imagination of the viewer, but also to allow the entire figure to express the emotion.
Hanks and Laura Hanks had three children. As the family grew, it provided new inspiration for him. He often painted his wife and children, which Laura Hanks holds more dear now.
“I don’t think anyone was as blessed as I am to have my children and my family captured in his paintings,” she said. “It’s really touching that Steve was able to share that beauty with the rest of the world.”
Since news of Hank’s death broke, his Facebook page has been flooded with condolences from all over the world.
“It’s really beautiful to understand and know that he had the impact he was trying to have,” Laura Hanks said. “His purpose was to share the beauty and love of life. He knows that he created more beauty in the world and we have that to remember him by.”
Hanks’ family will host a tribute to his life and work from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday. For information on attending, the family asks people to inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.