Secret Lives of Professors: the punk professor

Secret Lives of Professors: the punk professor

The day job:

John Hyatt is Professor of Contemporary Art in the School of Art and Design and Director of ART LABS at LJMU. A polymath – John is a painter, digital artist, video artist, photographer, designer, musician, printmaker, author and sculptor. He has exhibited in many countries across the world.

The secret life:

John is singer/songwriter in The Three Johns, a post-punk band that were most active in the 80s. The band are well known for putting on memorable live shows and had John Peel amongst their fans. The band still perform today with regular gigs and a recent performance on Marc Riley’s show on BBC Radio 6.

John has a history of balancing rock-and-roll with academia. In the 80s, while entertaining crowds with The Three Johns he was also teaching fine art at what is now Leeds Beckett. Playing clubs at night and teaching by day, did he feel like he lived a secret life back then?

“I never lived a secret life, just one open rollercoaster of thrills and spills. I think that my love for life is infectious, it just drags people in and along with me. In fact, at Leeds, I taught rock and roll too as a voluntary night class and a lot of bands came out of that, such as CUD.”

Today, John continues to keep his worlds of art and music intertwined:

“I strive to not have an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ of my varied activities and interests. I attempt to flow between worlds seamlessly and to transgress categories and slip the leash of definitions. I make and I share in the hope of doing good in the world. I believe in access to better lives for all and work towards that whether that be as a teacher, an artist, a researcher, a musician or any of the other labels we might reach for.”

John Hyatt
John performing at Club BIG. Credit: Paul Husband

And just how John’s activities and interests come together in the same arena is exemplified by his recent exhibition, ROCK ART. John was commissioned by Manchester’s HOME to put on a one-person multimedia show. One of the ‘works’ in ROCK ART was Club BIG in which John took the role of master of ceremonies in a fully functioning nightclub. The pop-up club showcased a huge range of current talent from musicians and magicians to filmmakers, comedians and lecturers. A show based around the idea of alter egos, John took the opportunity to slip into a dead version of himself: Seymour Clearly. John describes Club BIG:

“The space was about collective creativity, cross-generational, inter-cultural, trans-gender. The whole ROCK ART show was about ego, loss of ego, enlightenment and dying whilst still alive.”

John Hyatt
Club BIG part of John's ROCK ART exhibition. Credit: Chris Payne

John managed to bring a lot of talented people together to make ROCK ART the success it was, including LJMU students.

“Thirty-six students came together from LJMU, MMU and Salford to be involved in the Northern Flowerpowerhouse. The students invented a ‘fake’ artist, an alter ego of sorts, with an entire and coherent history and style of art work. They made the work of those invented artists and, curated by a professional artist, Mike Chavez-Dawson (himself playing an alter ego role), they produced an exhibition of those imaginary artists.”

Being involved in today’s music and art keeps John firmly in the present, if not the future (he describes himself as a futurist). But having been involved in the 80s alternative scene the first time around, what are his views on the seemingly unending 80s revival we’re going through currently? A phase not purely based on nostalgia as an increasingly younger audience keep it afloat.

“I think there is a revived interest in alternative 80s music because there is always a search for models of difference to define a new generation and we truly provide a different cultural lineage to fit within. So many bands now follow our lead as we followed others before us, such as Iggy Pop or the MC5 alongside great pop music like Marc Bolan or, of course, David Bowie.”

And how do The Three Johns fit into this revival?

“We are seen now as a voice of authenticity and experimentation hidden within the usual plastic construction that the mainstream media promote as that history. New media have played a part in making more cultish, alternative bands like us available to a wider public in search of other accounts of the world we live in. Though we played with big bands, like The Clash for example, we ploughed our own furrow and had our own following.”

With the music industry and wider cultural and political landscape having changed significantly over the last few decades, how does John see things now in contrast with then?

“Today, the overarching problem is that of the environment and the belligerent, destructive, over-masculinisation of society. In the 80s, the black and white world leant itself to easier polarisation and descriptions in music – in a complex world of multi-colours and not-yet-understood changes, encapsulating those nuances into a three minute song is difficult.”

Despite the complicated world young people live in today, John would encourage students that want to express themselves through music, performance or art to pursue their aspirations. His advice for them would be simply:

“Enjoy yourselves and speak the truth.”

If you’re interested in making the art of the future, why not find out what you can study at the School of Art and Design?

Find out more about the work and interests of the ‘punk professor’.

The Secret Lives of Professors series aims to celebrate the unique lives of the academics who make Liverpool John Moores University an amazing place to study. If you know of a lecturer who has some interesting side projects or great stories to share, please get in touch.


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