Barnard Gallery is proud to present Enlighten – an exhibition of recent paintings by Ryan Hewett. A year after Genesis – his acclaimed debut solo show at the gallery – Hewett is back with a body of work echoing the brutal beauty of his earlier portraits, but displaying a greater fluidity that accompanies his growing confidence in the medium.
These works are fewer but larger in scale and they are more intense in their interrogation of self and other. With his densely loaded palette knife, Hewett scrapes and moulds his forms, caressing, bruising and bleeding the canvas, swirling between the associations of figuration one usually makes with portraiture and the sheer expressive energy of mark-making.
As Enlighten, the title of the exhibition, suggests, Hewett’s unfolding trajectory has become increasingly spiritual, complex and paradoxical. For him, portraiture has never been about external likeness; it is about turning the inside out and the articulation of an emotional journey of self-exploration and discovery.
“I don’t intellectualise my work process,” he explains. ‘Even when it comes to putting titles to the portraits, it is only after I have hung them on the walls, have lived with them, that the words come and even then, a clear explanation of what they are about is often elusive.”
The ineffability of his quest is underscored in works such as Open – which serves as the centerpiece of the show. The contours of this face – wide eyed and upwardly tilted – are gentle and feminine, with the wispiness of Hewett’s lines conveying wistfulness. There appears to be an embrace of the unknown.
Conversely Hewett’s self-portraits such as Incomplete are brooding and swathed in shadow. They are less about the artist depicted in different guises – as in conventional self-portraiture – as they are evocations of internal struggle. In these works pristine surfaces are constantly ruptured by paint strokes that scratch, violate and deface. Yet simultaneously, the thrall of the mark is evident, with the sheer energy of Hewett’s stroke – whether of oil or spray paint – veering towards abstraction, recognisable yet obscure, accessible yet opaque.
Therein lies the paradox of Hewett’s portraits. As spiritually charged as it is in its quest, Enlighten is profoundly profane in process. It is about pushing the raw stuff of experience along a private, often anomalous path. Just as Genesis – the title of his previous show – suggests, the search is always about new beginnings. And in the ever-fluid quest for self, enlightenment constitutes both an arrival and departure point, as well.
In addition to his debut solo exhibition at Barnard Gallery, Hewett has had successful solo shows in New York and California and has participated in group exhibitions in London, Berlin and San Francisco. His paintings have been presented at various art fairs including the Joburg Art Fair; Cape Town Art Fair; Fountain Art Fair, Chicago and SCOPE Miami.