The word “exposed” often holds a negative connotation—used to describe weaknesses exploited, secrets revealed and innocence lost—but New York artist Stephen Hawkey is exploring a different, more positive interpretation in his upcoming exhibition at J.Mackey Gallery, Exposed: The Art of Stephen Hawkey.
“I interpret the word as ‘honesty’,” Hawkey says, describing the show’s goal of allowing others to see this raw, intimate side of him as “an uneasy step in the right direction.” For him, “art isn’t pretty. It’s who I am, what happened to me, and how I was affected,” he states. “All the work is self-discovery. The subject matter of the pieces has to do with what’s going on in my life at a particular time, so all these pieces, in some way or another, are me having a better understanding of who I am as a person.”
Exposed was curated by J.Mackey Gallery owner Justine McEnerney, whose heightened curatorial sense picked up on Hawkey’s mission of self-discovery right away and pinpointed which of his paintings he shared the closest connection with. “I think the curator saw in the work itself that I was really exposing something … and being openly honest,” Hawkey shares. “She literally selected my favorite pieces!”
These pieces have all been created using old computer punch cards from the 1970s and ’80s, once a groundbreaking technological breakthrough, now ancient and useless. “The reason I chose that as a material to use wasn’t because of the technology, it was more so that it’s something that has become obsolete and serves no purpose in the world,” he says, noting that through his art, these iconic symbols of yesteryear have found renewed purpose.
“I don’t like to overelaborate on my work,” he adds. “I like people to see it for what they think it is.”
As for the process of creating each work featured in Exposed, Hawkey cuts punch cards and attaches sometimes 100 of them together to create his canvas; he then adds a layer of old newsprint and other weathered papers before adding a coat of acrylic paint. The full composition is then created atop this painstakingly crafted base.
This fascinating creative process is the latest in Hawkey’s lifetime of creating art, albeit in different forms throughout the years. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Miami University, he began his professional career as an art director at a boutique ad agency, where he designed ads for the likes of Coca-Cola, GMC and Marriott Hotels.
After growing tired of advertising, Hawkey went back to school for architecture, receiving a Master of Science degree at Pratt Institute. He worked on the Freedom Tower and other projects as part of his internship at SOM, and he was later hired by Michael Graves as an interior architect. There, he began to take notice of Graves’s paintings which awakened a desire to create his own.
Now a full-time artist creating mixed media works out of his Port Chester studio, Hawkey draws inspiration from self-discovery, both his own and that of fellow artists. “I’m inspired by self-discovery and how other artists do it—whether it’s a musician writing lyrics about their life or mental health or a comedian who makes you smile but the subject matter is tragic.”
Through his artful self-discovery, Hawkey has been able to find creative nirvana, more scientifically known as a flow state. Psychologists describe this phenomenon as a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in, focused on and energized by a particular activity, often losing all sense of time and outside stimulus in the process. “The most rewarding aspect of creating art, for me, is getting lost in the process,” he says. “The whole reason I create art is to try and achieve that in every piece.”
The works found in Exposed: The Art of Stephen Hawkey offer an honest look into the Hawkey’s history, passion and personal nirvana on a level unlike any of his shows to date. He’ll introduce this insightful exhibition to J.Mackey Gallery at an opening reception on Saturday, July 31 at 7 p.m. The show will remain on view through August 31.
J.Mackey Gallery is located at 62 The Circle, East Hampton. The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 631-237-4655 or visit jmackeygallery.com. To learn more about Stephen Hawkey, visit stephenhawkey.com.