By MARIEPET MANGOSING, January 2022
For John Joseph Hanright, it all started with the American brand marketing of the 1950s. It was a time of artistic and thoughtful ads and promising branding “full of optimism.” Hanright explains, “I’ve always been enamored with the 50s generation, an amazing time in America. It’s the greatest generation, built post-WWII, when everything was new from the idea of nuclear power to computers. It was a time of excitement and discovery.” With thoughtful design and storytelling in his arsenal, Hanright incorporates those same feelings of awe in his career.
Hanright utilizes the notion that nostalgia, loaded with hope and curiosity, is a jumping-off point in most of his current work. He cites his mainline inspirations were specifically the billboard and magazine advertisements from the 1950s to 1960s. Hanright believes that this history exists to tell us a bit about our present selves and that even though change is imminent, it could incite comfort to compare how far we’ve come. “The advertisements of the period are so artistic with so much depth and creativity. I think the 50s had an innate sense of wonder,” Hanright says.
Hanright reminisces about the time he spent in Thailand where he observed the country’s enviable advertising, which brought him into his next creative phase. He says, “There were these gigantic billboard ads. I would sketch out the city-scape and there would be various rectangles with these ads cut out. Then, I would draw out the logos and I realized that it looked like it was a grid system, which then was my impetus to start collaging.”
As a result, Hanright constructs his pieces with layers of mixed cut outs from vintage and contemporary magazines with paint and finished with layers of resin. In “Modern Man,” Hanright clips together a James Dean painting with magazine advertising for cars and gasoline. He notes, “I have a flag series and I am able to farm magazines for images for each of the 50 individual stars in its section of the American Flag. Then, I’ll paint something. Keep it fresh in the process.” Hanright then remembers a time when a viewer read about his use of vintage magazines and decided to write a strongly worded email to confront him about it. He shares, “Magazines and periodicals are kind of disappearing and I got an email from a guy who was like ‘How dare you cut up these vintage magazines!’ He came off angry so I digested the email then wrote back and said ‘I understand your concern but I think I’m preserving this era of print with these images preserved in my work.’ The guy ended up writing an apology back.”
While Hanright would insist that his work feels very Americana pop art (à la Warhol, an artist he thinks to have “opened doors” for the art world and was “inspirational to people who aren’t even into it”), there’s an element of universality to his work that begs the viewer to step back and view the world from a more macro view. “People ask me ‘What type of artists are you?’ I would say that I want to make work that is cross-cultural and international but I don’t shy away from calling myself an American artist.” Hanright does so by leaning on the historical context of American iconography and using it as a base for something new to emerge. Hanright also recognizes America’s inherent issues, which are also international, cross-cultural, and similarly rooted. Despite this, Hanright says of being an American artist, “I want to celebrate it.”
Hanright credits Warhol but also has several other artistic inspirations that have influenced different aspects of his process, “I think Duchamp was a big inspiration with the everyday object as art that goes along with advertisements. I’m a huge fan of Susan Rothenberg and even though her work doesn’t relate to my own and isn’t in the same style, I studied her work to become more gestural with my painting.” Hanright often pairs his collages with painted portraits, adding flare and unifying them thematically.
Akin to the notion that America’s texture is more of a salad than a melting pot, Hanright’s stylized approach is very much an amalgamation of his interests that retain their identities but are strung together to say so much more. “When I’m trying to tell a story about Americana or rock and roll, I want to go for the ‘wow’ factor. As the viewer is driving away from the gallery, I want them to say, ‘I discovered something.’ Each time you look at it, it’s a new experience altogether.”
Hanright goes on to explain that his pieces are best enjoyed in person, a way to fully appreciate the effort in each individual layer. “Whether it’s your own attitude or what you’re thinking about in that moment, it all comes from being in person and seeing it physically, getting up close. You can see the active surface that way. It’s all important and intentional.”
Hanright ultimately hopes for the audience to enjoy each experience presently while also aiming to bring them back to moments of nostalgic bliss. With each passing New Year’s ball drop and the uncertainty of time in tow, it becomes even more key to reflect on what the past was like to realize and trust just how much more there is to go.
To learn more about John Joseph Hanright, please visit his website here. WM
Mariepet Mangosing is a bi-coastal writer and graphic designer from Jersey City. She has worked in brand packaging, web and print design for the past decade. Her feature length screenplay The Batholiths has been shortlisted in the Macro x Blacklist Feature Screenwriting Incubator program. In her work, she advocates mental wellness and accurate cultural representation in film, television and other media. She examines relationship dynamics through a first-generation immigrant lens. She has her BA in Visual Communications from Ramapo College of New Jersey and is an MFA candidate in Screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University.
view all articles from this author