With Antony Micallef as probably one of the most potent influences on my own artwork, I seem to gravitate to other artists in whom I detect traces of the man himself, like a damaging but intoxicatingly good smell. But before you attempt to have my career as an arts writer shut down, I am not insinuating that painter Ryan Hewett lacks his own aesthetic identity: Micallef conjures scenes of chaos, but Hewett injects the distorted, dehumanised style into portraits of poise. What makes his heads so engaging is their contained ordinariness and child-like innocence hemmed in behind tragic and hell-raising realities.
For me, Bio [above] is without question his most powerful piece. I can't stop looking at it. There's a raw tension between these apparently natural photographic poses and the rather unnatural deformation of them through striking and potentially destructive marks. I've always imagined Hewett's figures as brutalised war victims. But this notion goes beyond the physical: his figures are us, everyone, enduring some crushing emotional strife, drowned by a history of repression and, thanks to Hewett's art, they are finally screaming out to be heard.
Hewett employs highly painterly techniques, so much so that his process pieces are equally if not more intriguing to look at than the finished product:
There's a very real sense of human identity in crisis here. Hewett plays with the depth of his surfaces, subduing an eye here or a lip there, whilst letting other features bleed through so that we are confronted with 1000 yard stares; vacant yet deeply soulful expressions which wrench at your heart.
For me, Hewett is illustrating a violent, progressive onslaught on our generation, with deeply vulnerable and defenceless individuals barely able to resist and stay afloat. Identity, innocence, youth, beauty - something is being erased in the process, and it does not portend a prosperous future. Who are the culprits? I'm gonna go ahead and say The Only Way Is Essex, Geordie Shore, BigBrother, Jedward - those fuckers, just because they successfully demonstrate everything that's wrong with our society today. Consequently, through no fault of its own, the aspiring youth is reduced to a monstrous, rotten and unidentifiable core.
Depressive cynicism aside, this guy is seriously talented. Before Hewett discovered oils, he was accustomed to tight pencil drawing. His draftsmanship is still evident in his work, but you can feel how much he enjoys the liberation of free and experimental brush strokes. Everything about Hewett seems to be a narrative of liberation, of freedom: breaking out of incarcerating strictures, the struggle for release. The struggle to breathe.