Monday, March 5, 2012

artist crush: mark newport

several of Newports Handknit Costumes including Naftaman and Valuesman (third and fifth from left)
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My introduction to Mark Newport began a few years ago when I was looking for ways to spend my eekend, I came across a small write up about an installation called "Self-Made Man" in the Riverfront Times.  The exhibit was being shown at the museum at the Laumeier Sculpture Park, now one of my favorite museums in the area.  The write-up described an engaging exhibit full of Newport's hand-knit superhero costumes, as well as embroidered comic book covers and digital prints which promised to compel exhibit attendees to ponder fundamental questions about masculinity, bravery and courage.  Sign me up.

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 When asked to describe the superhero costumes he knits, Newport comments that they “combine [the superheroes'] heroic, protective, ultra masculine, yet vulnerable personas with the protective gestures of my mother – hand knit acrylic sweaters meant to keep me safe from New England winters."* The costumes he creates are life-size, but are not built for the stereotypical superhero with bulging muscles.  Instead, most of of them look like they were made for someone lanky and hang lifelessly on hangers in the exhibit, which Newport did intentionally so that those attending the exhibit could imagine themselves donning the costumes and taking on the persona of the superhero. 

Newport knitting a Spiderman costume
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Newport goes on to say that he did not only draw on images of popular comic book heroes for the inspiration for these costumes but also his "childhood memories of the ultimate man – the Dad every boy wants, the man every boy wants to grow up to be. In these I work to forge the link between childhood experience and an adult understanding of protection, masculinity, and heroism.”

Freedom Bedcover: Zachary (detail). Embroidery and ribbon on comic book pages, 2006
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If you ever have the chance to check out Mark Newport's work in person, dont miss it.  Attending one of his knit-ins would likely be just as cool (and something I regret not participating in when he held at least one during his exhibit's run at the Sculpture Park).  His exhibit remains one of my favorite shows to come to in St. Louis.  I appreciated that it challenged conventionally held concepts of masculinity and laid bare the complex nature of real manhood.

AlterEgos: Practice Digital Print
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Do you seek out exhibits to go to that challenge you to think about social issues?  Do you appreciate art that is visually beautiful, impressive or interesting and has a social mission?

*excerpts from a write-up by Oregon State University on a recent exhibit he installed at the Fairbanks Gallery

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