DeJuan Hunt II’s art coalesces around invention, play, and superhero creativity that expand definitions of art.
After exploring Hunt II’s stylistic invention New Persuasive Art earlier this year, I concluded that his art falls within the parameters of traditional art history. At the same time, it offers the possibility of lateral, rather than binary analysis. The artist sees himself within art history. He recently said that he’s going through his variation of Picasso’s blue period. The selfie of him meditating with Rodin’s The Thinker shows the artist playfully tapping into the creativity of another artist who questioned convention. His friends liken him to Raphael because he realized success at a young age. His fascination with inventing new styles is not unlike Da Vinci who saw himself first as an inventor.
While art history is easy to understand, it is often misleading. The art world traditionally defines art through a process of qualification and disqualification and retroactively plots the art object on an evolutionary continuum that begins with prehistoric art and concludes with contemporary art. Typically, a coffee table monograph summarizes art history in a big picture book that is easy to understand and asks few questions. In practice, it pairs glossy photos with narratives that rely on too much speculation.
The academic world subscribes to a similar invention. Unfortunately, we’re in quicksand from the beginning. While science provides general dates for prehistoric imagery, it knows little about the people who made it.
There are similar problems at other plot points. Ancient culture employed skilled craftsmen to make magnificent work that glorified the city-state. The medieval faithful created imagery that served devotional and didactic purposes. Neither the ancient laborer nor the medieval maker of religious imagery would be considered artists according to a modern definition of who an artist is, though the art world assumes it so. It’s inconceivable that these societies viewed imagery as a contemporary culture would. The notion of art as the residue of humanity’s creative impulse dates roughly to the time of Michelangelo. The idea has been reinterpreted by countless artists since.
Artists who don’t fit are excluded, or poorly represented. Artists from remote areas making modern abstract art, rather than preconceived notions of tribal art, are allotted an awkward slot in the archaeological branch of art history that takes explaining.
Ironically, these cultures manufacture objects for tourists interested in taking home a souvenir. Masks and spears are made and sold only as commodities. While these objects may be aesthetically appealing and well-crafted, they nevertheless do not reflect the local art community.
Finally, placing these objects in museum spaces for aesthetic analysis further supports a methodology that values easy categorization over nuance. While urban societies value technological advancement in their cultures, they expect faraway communities to remain fossilized in time. Although art scholarship has a legitimate stake in accurately defining art, the art world continues to perpetuate this myth of an evolutionary worldview.
In his book entitled, New Persuasive Art: an Art Style I’ve Invented, the artist challenges the binary order of things by shifting attention to an archaeology of meaning that persuades the viewer to see their world differently. He layers photographs, cut-outs, and written words on top of a painted canvas to create a unified image. He asks his viewer for an accidental or unexpected — rather than a calculated — response. Hunt II’s art reads like an inner monologue, or a directive, an alter ego, or any number of things, according to the audience’s imagination.
New Persuasive Art was exhibited in New York in January of 2014 at the Niagara Arts and Culture Center. In the video below, the artist says that every painting and drawing tells a story. He says that the title, Another Way Out, frames his unconventional approach. The style that he invented provided him with an avenue for creating deeply resonant art. New Persuasive Art gained international recognition in February with an exhibition at Flyer Art Gallery in Rome. Presently, Hunt II is working on new projects in New York in preparation for Art Basel.
Hunt II’s process offers an analog for art history. An archaeology rather than a false continuum permits fresh possibility. For starters, it challenges us to explore our bias. It allows us to be honest in acknowledging what we do and do not know about other people, about alternative artists and offers a valuable opportunity for new analysis. Instead of just comparing objects in aesthetic terms, it offers additional potential for learning about other people with a sense of wonder and respect.
Besides New Persuasive Art, Hunt II also invented and wrote about Real Illustration with books available worldwide. This invention outlines a fresh approach to illustration. It appeals to people of all skill sets and encourages everyone to be an artist.
The artist has also written graphic novels that feature miraculous inventions secret to man until this very moment. The artist describes Mr. Axe. Birth of a Titan, as a live action-packed story that also asks readers to look at creativity differently. In this way, he encourages his audience to consider a larger picture.
Finally, Hunt II is a community animator who makes art for cancer patients in Cleveland, Ohio. He feels that surrounding people with art give them strength as they undergo treatment. His community art, like his New Persuasive Art, sees love operating everywhere within the global community.
Of course, change is slow in the art world as it is in reality. Art history, an invention by white men for white men, is no longer viable within global culture. Scholarship did not analyze or examine women, people of color, or others until the twentieth century. History has not remembered these other artists. As a result, coalitions still struggle today for equal representation within disciplines that continue to emphasize white patriarchy. By displacing the notion of an evolution of art, with a layered approach would allow art history to step closer to truthfully recognizing people across time with available context.
It’s past the time to offer nuanced explanations that are easy to consume. Because we are competing in an academic world that values objective reasoning, we have more explaining going forward to avoid inventing exclusive histories that privilege a few, and find a correct slot for those who contradict its persistent white male bias. Art history can be respectable. Because it stands at the crossroads of multiple disciplines and offers a fresh vision to a contemporary global culture. In many ways, DeJuan Hunt II creates identifiable urban heroes who persuade the viewer to think differently.