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QCityMetro.com: Artist John Hairston Waxes Notalgic With Newest Show

The Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance is a collaborative effort of WFAE, the Charlotte Observer, WCNC-TV, QCityMetro.com,

The Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance is a collaborative effort of WFAE, the Charlotte Observer, WCNC-TV, QCityMetro.com, Charlotte Viewpoint and UNC-Charlotte to enhance arts coverage in our region. Since stepping onto Charlotte's creative scene more than seven years ago, artist John Hairston has gained notoriety for adorning his mammoth, ultra-colorful paintings with not-so-subtle nods to contemporary American culture. Artist John Hairston at work. Photo courtesy of Kat Reid. Just check his body of work (which has been displayed at local spaces like Dialect Gallery and Espada Bikes, among others) and you'll see figures draped in hip-hop-inspired clothing, repurposed superheroes seemingly ripped from the pages of Marvel comic books and more. In fact, his deepest dip into the past led him to create a collection of paintings that paid tribute to the early 1980s stylings of mega-influential artist Jean Michelle Basquiat until now, that is. Hairston's latest show - Jago Rockwell - marks his biggest nostalgic leap to date, paying homage (as the name suggests) to the work of iconic illustrator Norman Rockwell. So what possessed an artist whose work is very much about the "now" to turn back the clock and reflect on art that dates back to the 1930s and '40s? Turns out, Hairston didn't have to make that big of leap after all. "Since childhood, I've been familiar with Norman Rockwell's work. There are so many different places in pop culture where his work has been taken and re-appropriated - from Looney Tunes [cartoons] on television to comic books that have re-done Norman Rockwell art," said Hairston, a graduate of UNC Charlotte. "So, this isn't something that came about in the last year; this is something I've been thinking about for the better part of the last decade." "Meeting This Clown" from Hairston's current Norman Rockwell-inspired show. That said, Jago Rockwell is obviously not a total departure from Hairston's signature iconography. His familiar imagery (children dressed like super villains, giant robots, human-ish pandas, etc.) and themes (childhood trauma, interpersonal relationships) are still there, in all their glory, on the canvas. But this new show casts his usual cadre of characters in throwback roles as the featured figures in some of Norman's most beloved pieces (such as "The Problem We All Live With"). It's an artistic endeavor Hairston doesn't take lightly. "I'm still not there yet. Norman Rockwell's work was so photo-realistic, it was so ill - I never reached that point, but I always wanted to try," he said. "He was a bad man. I just wanted to pay tribute to him" "In the age of the graphic designer and digital art, I feel like the old craft, the craft of painting, is kind of getting forgotten," Hairston continued. "There are people who come out of school who can do stuff on a computer where it looks like a painting but have never picked up a paintbrush in their whole entire life. I kind of wanted to bring it back to that. I wanted to bring it back to the forefront in my own way and re-introduce [Rockwell] to a generation of artists that perhaps didn't understand his place in the history of illustration and art in general." To see Hairston's latest show for yourself, check out Jago Rockwell at Baku Gallery (attached to Fu's Custom Tattoo), 3200 North Davidson St.