Barnard Gallery, Cape Town
While Ryan Hewett paints faces, his work operates beyond and beside portraiture. In it, he seeks to achieve more than simple resemblance. He undertakes an engagement with subjectivity that is played out on the very surface of the canvas and through the materiality and movement of the paint itself. With oils laid in such thick layers as to become sculptural, Hewett’s figures project beyond the picture plane and into our space, confronting the viewer with an arresting energy and charisma. While earlier work was characterized by an intense, all-over painterly approach, this new body of work sees Hewett exploring a more reductive style, contrasting areas of his signature heavy impasto with more subdued areas of flat colour and clean lines. In Once Were Leaders, Hewett employs this refined approach in continuing the examination of persona begun in previous work, now turning the lens exclusively to figures from South Africa’s political past. Depicting controversial figures such as Jan Smuts alongside national heroes such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, Hewett contemplates the nature and intersection of power, influence, vulnerability and history.
Ryan Hewett’s debut solo exhibition was presented by Barnard Gallery in April 2013 and sold out within days of it opening to the public; his second solo show followed suite with similar success in 2014. The artist held his first one-man show in London in April 2015; the exhibition was a resounding success and the demand for his portraits continues to grow. In South Africa notable group exhibitions that have included the artist’s work are Future/Present (Barnard Gallery, 2016); Picture & Paper (Barnard Gallery, 2015); Then & Now: Conversations in Time (Barnard Gallery, 2015); Surface: Emerging Painters (Barnard Gallery, 2015); Paint Matters (Barnard Gallery, 2014) and Changing Faces: Profiling Portraits in South African Art (Barnard Gallery, 2013). Internationally the artist has participated in group shows in Berlin, London and San Francisco and his paintings have been presented at various art fairs including Joburg Art Fair; Cape Town Art Fair; Fountain Art Fair, Chicago and SCOPE Miami.