Antioch Missionary Baptist Church fire: ‘Twin Hicks,’ whose mural spoke to a community

When Englewood’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church caught fire earlier this month, the community was left grieving. But for brothers Alan and Aaron Hicks, the fire was more than a loss for the community — it was a loss of their work, too.

Alan and Aaron Hicks, both 60, go by Twin Hicks, specializing in portraits and murals. Some show the faces of visionaries, such as Malcolm X; others, like “Play Time,” represent everyday life. Many more are inspired by their faith.

In 2008, their faith and art collided when the church asked the brothers to restore its mural of Jesus ascending to heaven.

But the brothers’ love of art began long before then — at age 4, watching their uncle, Warren Hicks, draw.

“We started mimicking what he was doing,” Alan Hicks said. “He went on to play the guitar and get involved in music, but we kept going in the art field.”

In high school, Aaron Hicks said, an art teacher encouraged them to develop their talents. So they went to the University of Illinois, where both studied biocommunications and medical illustrations.

After graduating in 1985, they worked with multiple companies. In the late 1990s, they started freelancing. The twins’ work was sold online and promoted through word of mouth. They created murals, portraits, even magazine covers. By 2001, they had their own business. They are now known as Twin Hicks on social media and have a website, twinhicks.com.

“We have been able to reach out worldwide with our talent and the painting that we have done,” Aaron Hicks said. “We were in Jamaica about a month ago, and I saw some of my artwork out there. It’s a wonderful feeling and a gratefulness that God has given us this talent that we can display not only for us to appreciate but for others to appreciate. That’s the beauty of artwork. It’s universal.”

The brothers’ faith is seen in many of their paintings: a man in a pew, clutching a Bible; Moses and the burning bush; a little girl praying.

So “it was a blessing” when, in 2008, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church asked them to refurbish its sanctuary artwork.

The project included reworking scenes of a baptism and of disciples surrounding Jesus as he ascended. It took them nearly a month and a half to finish, working up to six hours a day.

“We did the whole entire thing all over again,” Aaron Hicks said. “We gave it a fresh coat, in terms of the blue sky, in terms of the disciples and the angels — pretty much everything in the foreground and background landscapes.”

Before and after photos of Twin Hicks mural at Englewood’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

Provided

Church members would flow in and out as the brothers stood on their scaffolds. As they repainted the mural, they also had it reflect those church members.

Starting with the disciples, then moving on to the angels and Jesus himself, Twin Hicks painted the figures Black instead of the original artist’s white.

“The parishioners, church members and pastors can identify with the images,” Aaron Hicks said. “That’s important to me, that we have something that we can identify with, something that’s positive. I don’t even think it’s a racial thing as much as being able to identify with who Jesus was, to know who the disciples represent.”

This isn’t unusual for Alan and Aaron Hicks. Their works consistently feature Black figures, including their painting of The Last Supper.

The twins were on a business call when Alan Hicks saw the church fire on TV.

They were shocked to see their painting survived the blaze — and the smaller fires that reignited later. And though the mural could not be saved, the fact that the fire spared it was, the brothers believe, a sign from a higher power.

The mural painted by Twin Hicks at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church was left mostly untouched by a fire that destroyed the building, but the wall — and the mural — could not be saved.

Chicago Fire Department

Aaron Hicks called it a “miracle.” For his twin, it was an allegory of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

“He did not take his old body with him, but he had a glorified body. … He was different from when they first saw him. So even though that mural can’t be saved, we can do a new one, we can make it better and have more of an impact than what this mural had.”

And, Alan Hicks added, if not for the fire, many probably never would have seen their mural.

“It took those walls to come down for the whole world to see that image of Christ going into heaven,” he said.

After the fire, a parishioner, and later the pastor, Rev. Gerald M. Dew, reached out to Alan Hicks to ask if the brothers would consider creating something for when the church is rebuilt.

The twins don’t have any ideas just yet for the new mural — none they’re sharing, anyway — but expect it to once again be Afrocentric.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see what the pastor and church officials have in mind,” Alan Hicks said. “It’s just good to know that we are considered to be the ones that will do the next mural.”

Twin brothers Alan (left) and Aaron Hicks, restored the mural inside Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in 2008. It survived a recent blaze that gutted the church; the image of Jesus can be seen through a broken window (center). The mural cannot be saved, but the artist brothers will create something for the rebuilt church.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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