Popularizing popular print

By Diana Olowa

The complexity of graphic art is currently on display by John Hewitt and six of his Royal College of Art colleagues in the collective exhibition Vernacular Inscription. With all the artifacts produced through popular print, the exhibition acts as a commentary on graphic, or comic art as it is also known.

Donald Parsnips, Chris Orr, Oran O’Reilly, Peter Lloyd, Mark Hampson, Mark Harris and recent Calgary visitor, John Hewitt, all utilize popular print to perpetuate views on male identity and to a larger extent, views revolving around masculine history.

"I think the interesting thing is that these are male artists doing a lot on issues of masculine identity," says Hewitt.

He also explains that although the artists tend to generate creations of ranging motifs and materials, all of the articles on display are manifestations of personal accounts elaborating on the communal theme.

Hewitt’s own work consists of 40 etchings–20 of which are displayed in the exhibit–representing the "stages-of-life," a common form of popular print. The U.K. artist couples his depictions with detailed vignettes extracted from overheard conversations while including ironic ambiguities of daily life.

"The narratives are things I’ve seen or things I have been very much centrally involved in," says Hewitt. "The Wreck" explores the depreciated value of once immortalized personal objects, in this case, an automobile, abandoned following its depreciation.

"We see carcasses lying all over the place, which were once somebody’s pride and joy," describes Hewitt. "In terms of a life cycle and the stages of life, a car has a very very swift life cycle."

Here, he uses the motif of the automobile to contemplate the arbitrarily constructed worth assigned to inanimate and commodified objects, yet emphasizes the detachment that occurs following the objects swift life cycle.

According to Hewitt, his storybook-like representation of his etchings are an attempt to grant pictures the equal authority presented to literary narratives and promote the uniqueness of graphic art produced through popular print.

"The written word is always given a little bit more authority than the drawn line," exlpains Hewitt, pointing out that prints are often overlooked due to the ease of replicating them. "Graphic art doesn’t have that preciousness, but I don’t think that devalues them. It just gives them a democratic sort of life."

The exhibition attempts to convey a sense of commonality in reference to masculine identity and diverse modes of popular print. It also allows audiences to understand and appreciate its relevance.

"I think that was the whole thing about Vernacular Inscription," he says, "is that we’re taking commonly used visual language and trying to give it the kind of authority painting has."

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