John Hitchcock arrived at the UW-Madison Art Department on the first day of his first class in 2001 and Professor Fran Myers told him: “Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.”
The next day was Sept. 11 and the young professor thought: “There’s no time to be new and fresh… It’s time to react.”
Infusing politics and activism into his art preceded his time at UW, but the events of 9/11 added fuel to Hitchcock’s passion for addressing social and political ills in his work, especially in a department famous for print activism.
“After the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and my recent travel to South Africa, Northern Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, Estonia and South America, the content of my artworks began to examine a broader view of how American politics connects to the larger world community,” he said. “The resulting art was influenced by discussions with international artists and family members from my community in Oklahoma.”
Hitchcock’s career in art began as a young child in Oklahoma when he made drawings of American Indian designs for his grandmother’s beadwork.
“Drawing for me is the key to thinking,” he said.
Most of Hitchcock’s recent work involves collaboration, interaction, and public space and centers on world politics, socio-political issues and how the United States influences other nations.
“I attempt to comment on the complexity of war, power, and greed,” he said. “It is important for me to make sense of the consumptive nature of the United States and its international policies and politics.”
This past spring, Hitchcock participated in a month-long artist residency at the Proyecto’ace, International Center for Visual Arts in South America, Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he conducted research on cross-cultural issues in art and explored new directions in contemporary printmaking.
He created a multi-media installation titled Expansión and co-curated a digital print project called Objetivos Moviles/Moving Targets that was exhibited on the Metrovias train system in Buenos Aires. Hitchcock, with a group of about 25 up-and-coming and seasoned artists carried large banner prints through the train cart system.
Each banner depicted several images of North America, South America and Caribbean artists’ works.
“The dialogue of politics during the installation and print actions motivates me to ask questions and think about the world we live in,” he said. “By using the print medium with its long history of commenting on social and political issues artists can disseminate information related to the condition of our society.”
The themes in Hitchcock’s work boils down to asking questions, he said.
“As we enter the 21st century, we raise many questions about our past and present conditions,” he said. “I feel we are losing control of our democracy – we need to get the ‘we the people’ back into the mindset of the population.”
Hitchcock said artists must continue to examine the questions: What capacity has art represented, misrepresented or changed the political and social views of the current time? How does European and American culture affect other nations?
“I feel that artists continue to ask the questions – the how, what and why,” he said, adding that the history of printmaking resonates deeply in his artwork and teaching.
Hitchcock uses his voice, not to only educate, but to understand our world to educate himself.
“To interact with people, whether it is making music or collaborating on an art project, I love how the dynamics of what happens when ideas spread like a virus,” he said.