As a young first year art student, I had a staggering revelation moment when I embraced the idea that modernity is not new. For the longest time, words like contemporary and modern were used almost interchangeably to describe what I had in my mind as old art and new art. In other words, abstract or “idea based” art made currently was modern and anything else prior to the last twenty-five years was categorized as not modern therefore antique or classic. Simply put, the idea of modernity has been around since the middle ages. The use of modern to mean the contemporary “right now” is relatively recent and was used in that context quite a bit during the mid-twentieth century onward. It helped sell products and a incorporate a sense of fashion or aesthetic that promoted the idea of progress and sophisticated thinking. Although the concept of modernity has been around for hundreds of years, mostly we may use the word modern to mean recent, as in the context of contemporary time, like today or yesterday. But, what if we use the term modern to describe an aesthetic style or movement? What if that aesthetic style is not popular now? In this case, the term modern may be used to describe a fixed period in history. Consider the popular expression “mid-century modern” used so often today. It is describing a fixed period of time when certain thoughts, ideas and aesthetic sensibility were based on influences of the middle part of the twentieth century, which were both contemporary and very modern.
The recent watercolors by MOPO co-founder John Hewitt, are in my opinion, paintings that utilize the vocabulary of modernism and realism without any detection of self-consciousness. His newer paintings done recently in Greece, seem to employ several things that announce their orchestration very subtly. They have a beautifully proportioned amount of purposefully naïve automatism, a genuine engagement in response to subjects, and a touch of classic “modernism” based on established design principles. They create a sublime abstraction of objects. What I mean by that is, there are two things happening almost always in his paintings; subject and idea. Think of it as the representation of things beautifully reduced into the realm abstraction. The paintings are usually titled as to what the image is depicting such as a thing or a location, yet, the image is made with bulbous and singular strokes like that of an ancient ink wash drawing, a but with color.
In preparation for this post, John wrote me about his own work, “I always refer to the basic principles of design as essential to my approach to give structure to my statement. I do chase sublime as a goal often as did the landscapists of late nineteenth century. My approach more expressive with raw emotion evident. I always choose a great shape over a detailed representation although I like both.”
For me, to look at Hewitt’s work is to allow the painting to play on that back and forth between facts and impression, intention and accident. I’d rather liken it to listening to a piece of music that happens to be on the wall. These are paintings that work best to sit back and simply enjoy the arrangements of the images made in this case with a brush, wielded in the manner of a conductor’s baton.
John Hewitt cites Millard Sheets and Vernon Nye as positive influencers on his work, methods and career. He lives and works in Fort Bragg, CA and is a co-founder of the Mendocino Open Paint Out, now going into its seventh year. He also leads several international workshops annually. See more of his work and workshop schedules at http://johnhewittart.com/