Heroes and Hookups Feature in Pop Paintings by John Joseph Hanright

To create his paintings, John Joseph Hanright draws from several strains of American popular culture and high art from the past 60 years, mining advertisements and magazine headlines for inspiration, in addition to comics and Pop Art. His complex narratives investigate the interpersonal dynamics between men and women, employing action as a metaphor for heroes and hookups.

The sexy, comic art of Boston-based painter John Joseph Hanright blends several working methods to make contemporary Pop artworks full of manic verve. Using collage, text, and painting, Hanright’s assemblages are iconic, but densely layered, both in terms of imagery and content. He draws on the nostalgia evoked by noirish comic book figures, and from elements clipped from magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, and other vintage publications.

Reminiscent of artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Hanright describes his work as, “a combination of conceptual art, American Art, pop culture and derived from life in the ’50s to present day.” He often employs action and seduction, as in Get Real Action (2014) and The Action Packed Pickups (2013). Each canvas features a kissing couple, along with swirls of appropriated fragments of text and advertisements. In the latter work, the picture plane is divided in half horizontally, creating an increased sensation of movement as the couple changes position, as if seen cinematically over a span of time.

Another painting of a couple, What is Often Kept Secret (2015) shows an extreme close-up of a couple’s lips, speaking and on the precipice of kissing. Speech bubbles coming out of their mouths are empty, save for collaged scraps of found text, which underscore the title’s ominous tone. “SCANDAL,” “AGENDA,” “OUR OWN WORST ENEMY,” and other words and phrases recede and jump forward, providing urgency and dynamism to the romantic picture.

Hanright partially credits the use of words in his paintings to the time he spent living in Thailand, when he began to reconsider the conceptual significance of text. Although all of his work includes textual elements, in some pieces it is especially vivid. OK Corral (2011) shows, from the waist down, the spread stance of a western gunslinger, familiar from TV and from paintings by artists such as Frederic Remington. Between the cowboy’s thighs is a big and bright red “OK,” in exuberant ad-like lettering. 

To the left is a fragment, reading, “NO ‘TALK’... ALL ACTION,” which might be interpreted as an ironic commentary on the relationship between painting and text, and the tension between them. Another painting, Pink is for Girls (2015), shows a young woman in a similar stance, also contradicted by the oppositional texts “BOYHOOD” and the sexually suggestive “WET & WILD.” Hanright’s work relies on such complications, and his richly packed pictures leave the viewer with much to consider.

—Stephen Dillon


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