1883 Magazine

To celebrate the gallery’s first anniversary, The Unit London is hosting U, a portrait exhibition that promises to be anything but traditional.

Running from 19th September – 18th October, the show brings together six emerging artists – Jake Wood-Evans, Ivan Alifan, Henrik Uldalen, Mark Demsteader, Ryan Hewett and SNIK – to investigate how the conception and expression of our individualities have changed with the “digital revolution”. Revolving around the topical notion of “fractured identity”, the exhibition presents a series of “unconventional” portraits that call into question the effect and implications of the digitalisation on our social life.


After a sneak preview of his work, we sat dawn with Ryan Hewett ahead of the opening of U to find out more about him and his outstanding paintings.

While calling him a portraitist might sound simplistic if not misleading – “I have not labeled myself as a portrait painter”, he says, “it has not been in my interest to capture likeness or have sitters”; Hewett’s evocative work explores the relationship between Self and Other, in fact embodying what we may call the inherent dichotomy of portraiture, a duality that results in a tension between “external representation” and the “inner being” – with its tribulations – hiding beneath the surface of a face. This tension reflects in a richly-hued style, swinging between Realism and the Abstraction, where detailing, and the quick rough splashes of the palette knife, combine to convey complexity and a wide array of powerful emotions.



Tell us about your background and how you got into painting in the first place

I’m self taught in painting, I have no formal training at art school. I took art as a subject in high school, but my interest was in realism through pencil work. In my mid twenties I picked up on painting, inspired by a fantasy book that featured Phil Hales’s works. I quit what i was doing at that stage in my life and began the journey as a painter.

Your work epitomizes the idea that the subject matter of all art is, primarily, the self; this means that many of your paintings start out as self-portraits. What is it that makes a portrait of yourself evolve into a portrait of someone else? Can you talk us through your creative process?

I would use myself as reference, as a study, sketched up very expressively; I approach drawing as I approach painting, in a gestural and loose way. I work in an organic manner; this means I will not pin up reference in the attempt to copy it. There is actually no formula or routine to the way I go about laying down the expressive mark making, detailed areas or structural elements. It’s done in rhythm, in sync; it’s a feel, if you like.

Certain areas of my painting will then get washed out or detailed; through this loose abstract mark making I find areas that work, parts I can identify with and bring forward. It’s a process of morphing realism with abstraction: within this process, the face will take many forms – certain features are enhanced while others fade.


In view of the “evolving nature” of your portraits, I wondered, what makes a face interesting to you? In other words, how do you choose your subjects?

It is the unknown, it is the search that is captivating. I don’t look at a subject and think he or she will make a beautiful painting; my thought is how can i use the subject – it can come down to the positioning of the head or the way a shadow is cast across the face, or just certain facial features... but really, it’s just a starting point.

What artists inspire you and your work at the moment?

There are a host of inspiring artists out there, standout artists, such as Antony Micallef and Jenny Saville.


What other interests do you have outside art? What keeps you ticking over when you are not painting?

My two boys, one and four; they swarm me outside the studio and absorb all my energy, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

As a last question, what does the future hold for you?

I’ve just wrapped up my second solo here in South Africa, which opens this September with the Barnard Gallery. And then I’m working towards my debut solo in London with The Unit in March 2015. Between shows I also have various art fairs and group shows.

U will be running from 19th September – 18th October at The Unit London, 7 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LL



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