‘Always Paint from the Truth’: Student Jonathan Hewett’s translation of bizarre objects and still lives

Naomi Priddy | The Arbiter

The trivial life of objects and how we assign meaning to them is what senior Boise State art student Jonathan Hewett portrayed in his recent exhibition: “Objects: A Series of Still Lives” at Surel’s Place artist residency on Friday, Sept. 16.

Oil-painted still lives oozing with character and a soft color palette framed the walls, tied together with their reference objects displayed on the floor in front of them. Complete with wine and a charcuterie board, Hewett’s exhibit held space for in-depth conversations surrounding ropography: the study of objects both modest and trivial in nature.

“The objects depicted in these paintings escape meaning. Many of them are parts of larger objects, now devoid of their context. What are we left with?” Hewett said. “So, the question at the heart of this project is this: What happens when we pay the utmost attention to an object that lacks all meaning and paint it according to a tradition that is all about the meaning of objects?”

Hewett is an artist fascinated by the relationship between language and art, as well as the objectification of daily living. A true artist in every capacity, he explores not only aesthetics but the ability to evoke an emotion and create deliciously visual pieces. 

“[At Boise State] I discovered that art to me was more than just a career path that I was considering. It was a lifestyle — a way of viewing the world and approaching problems,” Hewett said. “During my time in the BFA Drawing and Painting program, I began creating a body of work that was deliberate and not just drawing and painting for the sake of making something.” 

During his nine-day residency at Surels Place, Hewett created four pieces, each one taking on a life of their own as the process began, transitioning from assigning meaning to objects to the objects existing simply in themselves.

“So when I signed up I wanted to work with memories and I wanted to explore memories and see how far I can personify objects … the original idea was much more of a portraiture and a bricolage of the human soul in the objects rather than about the objects themselves,” Hewett said. “I wanted to explore how humans assign meaning to objects. I sort of reversed that and it was more so about the object itself, and it was about stripping away how we define meaning.”

[Photo from Boise State student Jonathan Hewett’s art exhibition, “Objects: A Series of Still Lives.”]
Naomi Priddy | The Arbiter

Hewett first started taking art seriously in high school when he started the Instagram drawing challenge Inktober. The viral challenge’s primary purpose is to encourage people to create drawings every day during October which correspond to different prompts. This challenge made him realize the potential he had as an artist. 

His exhibit truly paid homage to Hewett’s desire to explore concepts of language and objects.

“What happens when we try to create a still life or even a sculpture out of these objects that lack meaning and significance?” Hewett said. “Some say that just by painting an object, the artist is divining that object. They are paying attention to it … I find a thrill in hunting down things that had a lack of attention in a world where every niche had been carved out.” 

When asked what the best piece of advice he has been given as an artist, he responded, “Always create from truth.” 

Hewett loves to explore the meaning of symbolism and how words and linguistics correlate to art. What is truly different between language and art, from a poem to a painting? 

“Our language and method of abstracting the world around us pales in comparison to the way things actually exist. I’m not making any definitive claims as to what all objects are, I am only asking what really happens when we paint them,” Hewett said. “An object’s context does not constitute its true meaning or use, only the way it exists does that. The same goes for humans. At this point, I’m pretty sure painting is just magic.”

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