Under The Microscope: Ryan Hewett
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Under The Microscope: Ryan Hewett

Ryan Hewett

Ryan Hewett in his studio, 2019

Edward Lucie-Smith claims Hewett’s pictures “appear on the painted surface in the form of extraordinary apparitions, present yet not present. The vigorous marks of the brush reveal them, yet at the same time conceal them”, going on to label him as, “one of South Africa’s most distinguished painters today – we become part of the work, engaged by the act of looking.” Hewett’s heavy, impasto brushwork appears in stark contrast to the smooth, flat textures divided up across the canvas. His insatiable desire for atistic evolution has brought a semblance of order to a previously chaotic aesthetic. Hewett has had four exhibitions with Unit London and his work can be found in private collections internationally, including collections in South Africa, Dubai, Los Angeles, Zurich, Miami, London, New York and Riyadh. 

Untitled - 2015

In his first solo show with the gallery, Hewett took a group of historical icons - ranging from presidents and pacifists to terrorists and dictators - rendering them in what would become his signature gestural style. He took faces that are firmly rooted in the collective consciousness and distorted them, not so far as to be beyond recognition, but far enough to imbue the works with an element of psychological study while retaining an essence of the original figure.

“They appear on the painted surface in the form of extraordinary apparitions, present yet not present. The vigorous marks of the brush reveal them, yet at the same time conceal them. The paints remind us that we may think we know a particular personality, yet there is also something more to know, something held back. This is especially true of a certain kind of public personage. Our reaction to their physical appearance is loaded with all kinds of preconceptions – things we know, or think we know, before we even look at their faces. Yet it is arguable that what we believe we know in fact obscures them, prevents us from ever truly knowing them.” Edward Lucie-Smith, 2015 

“They appear on the painted surface in the form of extraordinary apparitions, present yet not present. The vigorous marks of the brush reveal them, yet at the same time conceal them. The paints remind us that we may think we know a particular personality, yet there is also something more to know, something held back. This is especially true of a certain kind of public personage. Our reaction to their physical appearance is loaded with all kinds of preconceptions – things we know, or think we know, before we even look at their faces. Yet it is arguable that what we believe we know in fact obscures them, prevents us from ever truly knowing them.” Edward Lucie-Smith, 2015 

Untitled - 2015

In his first solo show with the gallery, Hewett took a group of historical icons - ranging from presidents and pacifists to terrorists and dictators - rendering them in what would become his signature gestural style. He took faces that are firmly rooted in the collective consciousness and distorted them, not so far as to be beyond recognition, but far enough to imbue the works with an element of psychological study while retaining an essence of the original figure.

Untitled - Works

Untitled - Video

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Order - 2016

The following year, after the success of Untitled, Hewett returned to the gallery to present Order - further cementing the artists’ growing reputation as one of South Africa’s finest, most exciting and dynamic young artists. Where Untitled was intentionally chaotic, Order would be intentionally controlled, more refined, more considered. Between the shows, Hewett’s work involved flat, monotone colour punctuated by gestural strokes of paint, suggesting a bold new direction. With an instinctive interest in mark-making, Hewett’s continued fixation with the ‘curved flick’ provided the impetus for the new body of work.

Moving away from historical figures of power, Hewett began to depict artists: Lucian Freud, Egon Schiele and Marcel Duchamp all made their way into the exhibition.

“It’s a lot of palette knife, and brushwork, rollers... there’s a whole bunch of tools I use to create an image. Sometimes I’ll squeeze out the tube of paint directly onto the canvas and start moving it around. When I’m painting, anything goes really.” Ryan Hewett, 2016

Moving away from historical figures of power, Hewett began to depict artists: Lucian Freud, Egon Schiele and Marcel Duchamp all made their way into the exhibition.

“It’s a lot of palette knife, and brushwork, rollers... there’s a whole bunch of tools I use to create an image. Sometimes I’ll squeeze out the tube of paint directly onto the canvas and start moving it around. When I’m painting, anything goes really.” Ryan Hewett, 2016

Order - 2016

The following year, after the success of Untitled, Hewett returned to the gallery to present Order - further cementing the artists’ growing reputation as one of South Africa’s finest, most exciting and dynamic young artists. Where Untitled was intentionally chaotic, Order would be intentionally controlled, more refined, more considered. Between the shows, Hewett’s work involved flat, monotone colour punctuated by gestural strokes of paint, suggesting a bold new direction. With an instinctive interest in mark-making, Hewett’s continued fixation with the ‘curved flick’ provided the impetus for the new body of work.

Order - Studio

Order - Works

Order - Install

Order - Video

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Pause

The Garden - 2018

The Garden, Ryan Hewett’s third solo exhibition with Unit London (and the first show at our current Mayfair space), incorporated a range of geometric structures into the compositions. With a slightly updated style, Hewett began to continue working from the same subject matter: depicting abstract figurative forms and isolated environments, drawing from human experience and the natural world. This exhibition signalled a transition towards more ambitious large-scale painting thanks, in part, to Hewett’s move to a new studio space in his hometown of Cape Town in September 2017.

The exhibition’s centre piece - The Garden - lent its name to the the show and can be viewed as a starting point for the artist’s still evolving exploration of multi-dimensional landscapes and complex layering. The new body of work retained the heavily vigorous textural quality of Hewett’s distinctive earlier practice, alongside a new inclusion of flattened angular shapes that draws the viewers’ focus back to the materiality and technique of traditional painting - juxtaposing the two ideas.

The exhibition’s centre piece - The Garden - lent its name to the the show and can be viewed as a starting point for the artist’s still evolving exploration of multi-dimensional landscapes and complex layering. The new body of work retained the heavily vigorous textural quality of Hewett’s distinctive earlier practice, alongside a new inclusion of flattened angular shapes that draws the viewers’ focus back to the materiality and technique of traditional painting - juxtaposing the two ideas.

The Garden - 2018

The Garden, Ryan Hewett’s third solo exhibition with Unit London (and the first show at our current Mayfair space), incorporated a range of geometric structures into the compositions. With a slightly updated style, Hewett began to continue working from the same subject matter: depicting abstract figurative forms and isolated environments, drawing from human experience and the natural world. This exhibition signalled a transition towards more ambitious large-scale painting thanks, in part, to Hewett’s move to a new studio space in his hometown of Cape Town in September 2017.

The Garden - Studio

The Garden - Install

The Garden - Private View

New Paintings - 2019

New Paintings centred around the artist’s ongoing fascination with vibrant and abstract portraits, alongside a developing interest and representation of figurative anatomy through distinctive shapes and concentric circles. The fragmented segments present in these works dissect forms and faces to a point of abstraction, resulting in an aesthetic that is both joyous, through the vibrancy of the colour palette, yet unnerving, due to the exposed, spliced figures he reveals.

Hewett’s application of oil paint and bold colour fields are such that the thick, textural layers become sculptural, causing his figures to project beyond the picture plane, directly confronting the viewer with an arresting energy and haunting sharpness. Historically, Hewett predominantly painted faces, however this new collection of works would highlight his move towards the figure as a whole, and the captivating essence that figurative forms can hold.

Hewett’s application of oil paint and bold colour fields are such that the thick, textural layers become sculptural, causing his figures to project beyond the picture plane, directly confronting the viewer with an arresting energy and haunting sharpness. Historically, Hewett predominantly painted faces, however this new collection of works would highlight his move towards the figure as a whole, and the captivating essence that figurative forms can hold.

New Paintings - 2019

New Paintings centred around the artist’s ongoing fascination with vibrant and abstract portraits, alongside a developing interest and representation of figurative anatomy through distinctive shapes and concentric circles. The fragmented segments present in these works dissect forms and faces to a point of abstraction, resulting in an aesthetic that is both joyous, through the vibrancy of the colour palette, yet unnerving, due to the exposed, spliced figures he reveals.

New Paintings - Studio

New Paintings - Install

New Paintings - Private View

Nothing New Under the Sun, Goss-Michael Foundation - 2019

This, the latest body of work by Ryan Hewett, is a continuation of themes explored in his London exhibition New Paintings, featuring increasingly dehumanised figures portrayed in utopian, yet isolating landscapes. With strong allusions to Francis Bacon’s prophetic utopian vision of Atlantis, Hewett's latest exhibition at The Goss-Michael Foundation in Dallas posesd questions as to what the future of humanity holds.

It is left for the viewer to ponder existential questions about the nature of human existence and our relationship with the bounty of the natural world. As human figures are reduced to animalistic likenesses, and beautiful, but barren landscapes murmur with signs of distant life, Hewett imagines the uncharted future of our species and planet with a distinct impartiality as to whether we should be hopeful, or fearful, of our future.

It is left for the viewer to ponder existential questions about the nature of human existence and our relationship with the bounty of the natural world. As human figures are reduced to animalistic likenesses, and beautiful, but barren landscapes murmur with signs of distant life, Hewett imagines the uncharted future of our species and planet with a distinct impartiality as to whether we should be hopeful, or fearful, of our future.

Nothing New Under the Sun, Goss-Michael Foundation - 2019

This, the latest body of work by Ryan Hewett, is a continuation of themes explored in his London exhibition New Paintings, featuring increasingly dehumanised figures portrayed in utopian, yet isolating landscapes. With strong allusions to Francis Bacon’s prophetic utopian vision of Atlantis, Hewett's latest exhibition at The Goss-Michael Foundation in Dallas posesd questions as to what the future of humanity holds.

Nothing New Under The Sun - Studio

Nothing New Under The Sun - Works

Nothing New Under The Sun - Install

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