Thursday, 24 April 2008

mark newport (knit)

Much of the knitting I have blogged about has been created by women so some of it has inevitably focused on issues of comfort, home, domesticity and nurturing. Mark Newport makes knitted art that considers these same themes whilst additionally mulling over generally perceived and his own notions of what it is to be a man.

argyleman - 2007

Here we see the comforting, soft material of wool crafted into a protective super-hero costume ready to be worn by a big muscular macho man. But isn't it generally the stereo-typical wimp that wears knitted tank-tops and cosy jumpers..? And isn't it normally the woman (who does the knitting) that is providing the comfort, protection and love for the child the knitting will clothe..? Or are these out-dated notions of gender which are continuously evolving?

The contrast between the costumes when worn and the limp, empty garments that hang on the wall is marked. Once the muscle and the energy have gone they become strange looking pelts - the masks lend an eerie mystery but essentially whilst in that state they are skillfully crafted, limpid knitwear. Maybe fetishistic in appearance, as they hang in galleries they have more of the deflated morning after than the night before, more middle-aged spread than Clark Kent or Reed Richards.

patriot - 2004

These pieces are of course a product of age and context. Newport was a comic book consumer as a boy. Having been born in the 1960's, the heroes he would have read about and the stories he would have hungrily consumed were stereotypical and omnipresent. Television at that time churned out such series as Batman & Robin, Superman and Spiderman where again and again big strong men saved helpless women and children.

patriot - 2004

As a boy, super-heroes are statuesque, strong and powerful, honest and good. Is this how young boys perceive manhood? How they imagine the ideal father? As an adult male, that role of super-hero changes enormously and many men must question every day what is it that is required of them and what is it to be male. What makes a man incredible. What is it that enables a man to protect and save.

fantastic four - 2003

As a father the super-hero themes are there in any normal life (as he slips his imaginary superman pants over his trousers) - to teach children to be honest and good and be a hero in their eyes. Here I see a parallel with the empty costumes on the wall - like seeing one's super-hero father in a dressing gown or pyjama's when you awaken him to help you with a nightmare. Of course it is precisely then, at a groggy 4am that he most inhabits his super-hero role and is a brilliant Dad.

There is irony in the consideration of how much protection a knitted super-hero costume could actually offer. Would it shrink in the rain, or stretch...? Would it shrink in the washer or dryer? Or snag on bushes...? Questions I am sure Newport must have pondered whilst painstakingly knitting the pieces. Of course in undertaking the knitting himself, Newport has taken on the traditional role of the woman as he sees it. He is raising his own personal questions around gender which are specific to his background and generation.

sweaterman 2005

Today however, the majority of women don't knit items for their families. This can be seen as a luxury since time is a valuable commodity. It is not strange now to see men at fashionable knitting groups. Comic books have increasing numbers of super-women and normal women go out to work, protect and provide for their families. So it will be interesting to see if this crossover of skills, roles and deeply personal questions will continue to change and homogenise or if artists like Newport will continue to push it further.


DingDongBell said...

Eau don’t they look weird when hanging there all limp...quite sinister in fact. I’d still marry a man who wore one in a flash though – no pun intended, hehe!

pen said...

love the sweater man series of headshots! I'll have him!

Anonymous said...

as a guy I totally rate mark newport. you're spot on with what you say. he's got a real cool way of expressing himself and the struggles of being male. love your blog - awesome range of artists and writing is thought-provoking and inspiring. putting you in google reader - cheers, stu

Anonymous said...

Another really interesting post. I hadn't heard of this chap either, fascinating! pp

Anonymous said...

I really really want a bobbleman outfit for christmas.
Very different from my usual sweaters.
Love The Juggler x

Anonymous said...

i never see a thing like that they are really funny :D
but good for cold winter days :)

roseanne broadley said...

I LOVE this, Newport is amazing.
A wonderful alternative to the one-sy.
If only I could find a knitting apttern for one...