By Maddie Orton
Expressive eyes on twisted faces stare at you from the walls of Monmouth Museum. They’re intricate, soulful and made entirely with children’s arts supplies on the back of used consumer boxes. Dion Hitchings is the museum’s new featured emerging artist.
“Emerging. Like a big, bad butterfly,” he said.
After an early career in fashion, he returned to art 15 years ago — a personal renaissance of sorts.
“Beauty and fashion to trash in one quick, giant jump that took 56 years,” he said.
Hitchings fell in love with “outsider art” — a broad term for works created by those outside of the artistic establishment.
“You throw everything you’ve learned out the door. Most people consider it people who have not had training, but a lot of it now is you don’t follow any rules, anything,” he said.
He started simply, drawing daily self portraits. And moved on from there to applying his crayons, magic markers and pens to a John Waters-y set of characters — drag queens and chain-smoking nuns.
“This is another nun. The seven deadly sins. I’m obsessed with Jerry Springer Show,” he said.
Hitchings recalls the Picasso quote: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” He relates to the struggle.
But ironically, he really started to think outside of the box when he began drawing on the box — the Cheerios box. And Ibuprofen. Drawing Ringo on Reynolds Wrap. And Steven Tyler on cat food.
“Saltines, Entenmann’s and shredded wheat cereal. It forces you not to draw like you thought. The eyeball ain’t going to be where the eyeball is and the mouth is going to be somewhere else and it works to your advantage. And then you have really crazy little things that peek through like ‘Minis Cheese’ and Entenmann’s logo,” Hitchings said.
Museum Executive Director Avis Anderson says that’s part of what pulls visitors in to Hitchings’ drawings.
“People get right up next to it. And the box helps because you want to figure out what box it is so there’s that kind of fun element to it too,” Anderson said.
The vivacious and provocative Hitchings now owns and runs an outsider art gallery in Frenchtown. He’s selling his own work, as well as pieces created by some of his favorite artists. And he loves every minute.
“And now it’s fun again. … If you can find a way to make a living and have fun doing it, it’s fun,” Hitchings said.
Hitchings plans to keep experimenting. He’s moved on to pizza boxes, discarded furniture and whatever else he can find on trash day.