Ryan Hewett: New Paintings

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Ryan Hewett, La Femme I (2019)

This June, Unit London presents a new exhibition by South African born, Cape Town based painter, Ryan Hewett. The show will bring together a collection of Hewett’s latest painterly works, which draw on the artist’s captivation with vibrant and abstract portraits, alongside a developing interest and representation of figurative anatomy through distinctive shapes and concentric circles.

‘New Paintings’ not only marks the anniversary of Ryan Hewett’s first solo exhibition at the gallery, but also celebrates one year since the opening of Unit London’s flagship space in Hanover Square, Mayfair.

Renowned for his brooding and evocative paintings, Ryan Hewett’s fascination with portraiture does not focus on the external likeness of a subject; but rather an inner journey of self-exploration and expression. The fragmented segments present in Hewett’s works dissect forms and faces to a point of abstraction, resulting in an aesthetic that is both joyous, through the vibrancy of the colour palette, and simultaneously unnerving, due to the exposed figures he reveals.

Hewett’s application of oil paint and bold colour fields are such that the thick, textural layers become sculptural, causing his figures to project beyond the picture plane, directly confronting the viewer with an arresting energy and haunting sharpness.

While the artist predominantly paints faces, the new collection of works on display at Unit London will highlight Hewett’s move towards the portrayal of bodies, and the captivating essence that figurative forms can hold.

It is particularly in La Femme I, 2019 that the artist’s development of a more reductive style is evident. While earlier works are characterised by an intense, all-over painterly approach, here, contrasting areas of Hewett’s signature heavy impasto are balanced with subdued areas of flat colour and clean lines. In addition, the marble tonal effect visible in the figure’s shoulder joint is reminiscent of the strength portrayed by a Renaissance statue, whereas the sweeping crescents and skin coloured teardrops bear much softer and pliable qualities.

It is the combination of these contrasting elements – between the visceral and the constructed – that allow Hewett’s work to provoke audiences to question, not only the figures in front of them, but also feelings towards their own form.