This month’s featured artist is John Hewitt. At the beginning of 2020 John spoke to MAFA about Outlandish, a walking, writing and drawing collaboration. He had undertaken this project with writers Damien Le Bas and Jo Clement. We’re catching up with him again to find out about how Outlandish has progressed as well as his latest project focusing on Manchester’s homeless community.
In 2019 John joined Damien and Jo on St Cuthbert’s Way. This modern-day walking trail based on an ancient pilgrim’s path takes you through the stunning scenery of Northumberland and County Durham into South East Scotland. The walk is named after Cuthbert, a 7th-century saint, and pilgrims have travelled this route for hundreds of years.
Traveller families have also used this route for hundreds of years. During their journey, John, Jo and Damian explored the ethnic Romany history along the trail. Their journey resulted in a book called Outlandish. It documented culturally significant places as well as helped to make visible Traveller history.
This has been a challenging year for all of us and many of our plans have had to change. With Arts Council funding Jo and Damien had planned to deliver writing workshops for North-East traveller communities. They had also organised readings in Brighton. Sadly due to the pandemic these events have had to be cancelled. However over lockdown Jo Clement produced 6 poem-films beautifully bringing to life John’s original sketches. Crown, At Eidon, After Flodden, Lindisfarne Path, Outlandish and Sod’s Law have all been released on YouTube with over 550 views. Take a look at Sod’s Law below:
You can see the whole series of films via Jo Clement’s website.
Drawing during Covid
In June 2013, John started making daily drawings inspired by his dog-walking encounters, and posting them on Instagram. Seven years later, he’s created nearly 3,000 sketches, not missing a single day. His drawings show a variety of subjects observed in the countryside around his home, near Saddleworth Moor, and in Manchester.
During lockdown he has revisited many of the subjects that have captivated him in the past. His main interest – the history of place and invisible histories – is apparent in these latest drawings. Many show neglected buildings, old weavers cottages and contrasts of architecture from new to old. Homelessness is also a recurring theme.
In Manchester there has been a large effort to offer support for the homeless community with schemes such as Andy Burnham’s initiative A Bed Every Night. But these are uncertain times; hundreds of people have been made homeless during the coronavirus lockdown. In April, 344 people were recorded as newly homeless and requiring accommodation. As we going into a second lockdown, this situation can only get worse.
John’s daily sketches have often captured the invisible side of Manchester, his art reflects society’s problems and aims to increase visibility and awareness. Over the years he has often captured the homeless community in his drawings; sketching anonymous figures rather than portraits but offering an insight into the hardships faced by people living on the streets.
Before lockdown John was approached to work on another literary collaboration in partnership with Invisible Cities and poets Danny Collins, Laura Ashcroft and Andy Mercer. This new campaign aimed to raise awareness about homelessness and the hard-hitting realities behind it. Invisible Cities is a social enterprise which trains people affected by homelessness to become walking tour guides of their own city. It offers these alternative tours to tourists and locals. Poet Danny Collins facilitates some of the tours in Manchester and published a book called Off the Cobbles. Danny, an “adopted Mancunian”, shows people the city’s streets as he has lived them. His tour is a poetic exploration that transports visitors to the flip side of Manchester, beyond the mere surface of its tourist attractions and into the depths of his own experience of homelessness.
This artistic collaboration was planned to celebrate Invisible Cities’ second anniversary. Plans have had to be put on hold because of the pandemic but it is hoped John’s drawings will still be used to produce billboards and projections across the city centre.
Posted: November 10th, 2020