John Joseph Hanright
By Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle
John Joseph Hanright creates collage paintings that both revel in and unpack the allure of nostalgia. Hanright sources vintage materials throughout multiple eras of American cultural and advertorial history to create contemporary pop paintings that feel both in and out of time. From advertising to comics, historical headlines to timeless icons—the imagery in Hanright’s paintings all realign to create an exciting tapestry of Americana.
Hanright is a contemporary painter and assemblage artist who combines vintage and contemporary imagery to form paintings that reflect on history while commenting on contemporary moments. He often sources his imagery from the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s periodicals, vintage travel magazines, and movie posters. He holds a degree in Painting and Fine Art from Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA. He has exhibited in solo and group shows throughout the United States and Canada, and his work is in the Montserrat College of Art permanent collection as well as private collections worldwide. Hanright currently lives and works in Boston, MA. Here & There Magazine met Hanright to deep dive into the narrative he creates, from heroes to hookups and interpersonal dynamics.
How did you start working with collage? What attracted you to it?
My relationship with collage started in college. I was exposed to the work of artists like Barbara Kruger, Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. Their techniques and exceptional work were the impetus that stoked my interest in utilizing collage as a viable medium. I especially liked how the added assemblage process complimented my work and gave it another dimension for the viewer and another outlet for me to create.
You must look through many different publications, explain a bit about this process.
I pour through hundreds of periodicals ranging from the 1940s to the present day to discover an image or text that speaks to me in order to create a work. The act of farming through ephemera is like a history lesson on American culture. From the days of World War 2 to the Greatest Generation, to today’s notable fashion and figures. The act of discovering new and exciting images or text fuels the creation of my works entirely. I will certainly have an idea or target I am looking for, however, upon searching, I always discover an unexpected gem that propels my work.
What initially attracts you to the eras you source your material from?
I am attracted to the newness of American culture. I love the sense of the new and general excitement that the Greatest Generation possessed. Everything was on the rise after the depression and World War 2. The sense of accomplishment of home ownership, a first car, and the popularity of the nuclear family, all had a positive underbelly of success and pride. I certainly source from contemporary materials as well. And in the same vein, I search for positive intentions and creativity. I want to be presenting happiness in the stories created.
"The pulse of a generation, the barometer of America, happiness, a sense of pride, the exploration and discovery of love—these are all messages I try to inject into my work."
How would you define pop culture in our current society? Have you noticed - based on your findings - it has changed over the years?
I would certainly say pop culture as a whole has changed significantly throughout time. I think a major inflexion point was during the Greatest Generation and post-war era in America, which is why much of my work focuses on this period, but in today’s context. There is an element of succeeding out of strife in this time period that resonates with me unlike any other time in history and has really shaped the ways Americans view each other and the world, even today.
What’s the main message behind your work?
The pulse of a generation, the barometer of America, happiness, a sense of pride, the exploration and discovery of love—these are all messages I try to inject into my work. Without sounding trite and or too generalized, I present stories within my work all fueled by present-day culture but with a definitive nod to the past. Without the past, there is no now. Such a dynamic is what I hope to communicate through the combination of vintage materials and present-day ephemera.■