Mark Newport began knitting life-sized superhero costumes after becoming a father for the second time, when he realized how the experience had thrust him into the role of protector.
“I was thinking about things or feeling things I hadn't felt before,” the Mesa fiber artist says. “In making the suits, I realized it's also about protecting yourself, because the costumes were meant to disguise the hero and protect him.”
Twelve of his costumes — including those of Batman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Aquaman — are in the artist's first solo museum show, “Mark Newport: Super Heroics,” opening Friday at ASU Art Museum. The exhibit also features his embroidered comic book covers, along with digital images and prints. Newport examines concepts of masculinity through his work, says the show's curator, John Spiak. The superhero costumes portray “that pressure to get involved and protect, even when the situation may be putting you in harm's way,” he says.
“Sometimes we don't feel confident in the role of protector, because we've been told that protectors are big, bulky people, superheroes, with muscles,” Spiak says. “But there are other ways of helping, and I think that's what his work kind of opens up to.”
CARDS TO COMICS
Newport was born in 1964 in Amsterdam, N.Y. His grandmother taught him to knit as a teenager while spending summers on her farm.
“Most times (my brother and I) just played around on the farm and in the barn, but sometimes she had arts and crafts projects for us to do,” he says. “One summer she taught us to knit, and we made potholders and headbands. It wasn't anything really complex.”
Newport first studied painting, later focusing on fiber arts. He earned his bachelor's of fine arts degree from Kansas City Art Institute in 1986 and his master's from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998.
While teaching at Western Washington University in Bellingham in the mid-1990s, Newport began beading sports and other trading cards. Gradually he moved into embroidering comic book covers.
Seattle gallery owner Greg Kucera met Newport in 1995.
“The reason Greg was interested in showing his work was, it takes on aspects of gender questions,” says gallery manager Scott Lawrimore.
Newport's art probes “something that was traditionally assigned to ‘women's work' — embroidery, knitting, that kind of thing — and applies to it statements or questions of masculinity.”
Newport's work clearly changed when he became a father and relearned how to knit, Lawrimore says.
“That's something that has been burgeoning since we began working with him; initially, it wasn't part of his work. It's great to see fatherhood playing into that.”
Newport says it was only natural.
“I remember worrying about letting my daughter ride her bike to the park, which was a couple of blocks from our house, because I couldn't see her,” he says.
Newport uses himself as a model for his superhero suits, and says he hasn't encountered much ribbing about being a male knitter.
“I hear a lot from people that their father knit, or their uncle knit, so I know it happens. When I'm sitting at the airport, I knit,” he says, adding he does get a few stares from time to time.
‘Mark Newport: Super Heroics’
When: Opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Exhibit runs through Sept. 3
Where: ASU Art Museum, southeast corner of Mill Avenue and 10th Street, Tempe
Information: (480) 965-2787 or http://asuartmuseum.asu.eduKnitter and protector