Dave Hickey like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson brought an intense personal sensibility to journalism.
The last of a generation that began with Wolfe and Mailer's "new journalism," Hickey gained cultish fame with his 1997 collection "Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy."
The essay collection champions Hank Williams, Liberace, Stan Brakhage, Norman Rockefeller, Chet Baker and other popular artists with the same attention he gives to Cezanne, de Kooning, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. In an essay on basketball, he praises Julius Erving and James Naismith's original game rules.
Hickey, who like Thompson and Mailer defined himself as an outlaw rebelling against prevailing cultural strictures, died Nov. 12 at age 82 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He'd been battling heart disease for years.
A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Hickey as a child moved with his family to Los Angeles. He ridiculed Texas' provincial boosterism, but never lost the state's contrarian viewpoint. When Hickey was 11, his father, a car salesman and jazz musician, killed himself, a major influence on Hickey's independent outlook.
Rootless as a young man, Hickey opened an art gallery in Austin called "A Clean Lighted Place," which struggled against the Texas capital's parochial aesthetic values. He then moved to New York City, where he managed a gallery, reportedly quitting in protest of a Yoko Ono exhibition.
Discovering himself as a writer, Hickey was editor of Art in America before finding a home as a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, becoming the most famous representative of that school since Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels.
In one of the best essays in "Air Guitar," Hickey celebrates Las Vegas for its freedom from New York City and Los Angeles' cultural dogmas. He also loved Las Vegas' wide-open entertainment and gambling culture.
"Air Guitar" and the influential chapbook "The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty," earned him a MacArthur "Genius grant," in 2001, the proceeds of which he fed into Vegas slot machines.
While he appreciated mass popular culture, he also called for a return to rigorous standards in judging artworks. He blasted the contemporary art world for its commercialism and turn from traditional artistic values.
Like his journalistic predecessors, Hickey was accused of machoism, although he considered underappreciated abstract painter Joan Mitchell the best artist of her generation. Feminist critics saw his defense of beauty as elitist. At the end of his career, he published "25 Women: Essays on Their Art." That too was viewed as paternalistic.
Hickey wrote for a variety of publications, including Art News, the Village Voice, Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone. Along with art and popular music, he also wrote about television and the movies.
In "Air Guitar," he recalled the Texas writer Grover Lewis, and Lewis' friendship with Larry McMurtry, ground also covered by a McMurtry memoir.
Hickey biographer Daniel Oppenheimer wrote a warm appeciation of Hickey for Texas Monthly, the first to report Hickey's death.
As Oppenheimer details, Hickey like other literary exiles remained stamped by his native land.