Archaeologist Thodoris Archontopoulos takes us on a journey through Newberry’s works in progress. Originally published in the Greek newspaper the Rodiaki, 1996.
The Pond, wip, oil on linen, 54 x 48″. Destroyed.
Michael Newberry exhibits his works in Rhodes at the salon-like gallery To Dentro (the Tree), June 15th through July 13th 1996.
Newberry has lived in Rhodes since 1995. Previously, he studied art in Los Angeles and in Holland and exhibited in The Hague, Brussels, New York, and frequently in Los Angeles, where he taught drawing and composition for four years at Otis/Parsons College of Art and Design.
In 1995 he exhibited in the Bastion of Saint George, sponsored by Rhodes Cultural Affairs and the Archaeological Service of the Dodecanese.
This year’s exhibition is of large canvases and their preparatory studies in pastel and pencil on paper. This exhibition represents a profound confession to all of us as Newberry takes an absolutely transparent look into the communication between the audience and the artist. Newberry shows us, in an uncommon way, how and even perhaps why he paints.
The character of this exhibition reveals the genesis of painting, but it also allows us to grasp how these expressive studies are united by a common vision, an unusual concept for an exhibition. In three large, unfinished paintings and many preparatory studies (45), we get a special look into the construction of the paintings through their relation to the studies. While the studies are made with different techniques in the mediums of pastel, pencil, and oil, they relate to one another, are connected by a common cause: form and light. Out of form and light the basic idea and the message combine with the color to create a personal aesthetic.
Pastel Color Study for the Pond
Atmosphere Graphite Study for the Pond
Graphite Landscape and Water Study for the Pond
By observing these two elements, the paintings and their studies, we can locate the common rudiments of form, composition, light, and atmosphere. The studies’ differences of details, atmospheric light, and colors reveal the time involved in the conception of a large painting, and they contribute to the elevation of the aesthetic of the paintings.
Newberry starts with an idea. Here, the studies don’t tell exactly what the idea is! Is it the subject? Is it the atmosphere? Is it the light?
Many times the first studies are of pure colors, which can be very abstract for us. The atmosphere of the studies can be of depth, or of details. Other times he is preoccupied with the form and the light. On one of the paintings, Man by the Water, he paints the reflections of light on the fabric of the clothes, and the reflections of clothes on the surface of the water.
Newberry works the human body like a surgeon’s intricate incisions. With the pencil or pastel drawings we observe the immediacy of his observations of the subjects. These studies have sensuality because they start and end with his direct visual stimuli. His technical executions have been honed through personal experience, practice, and sensitivity. Seeing these studies in pastel we find an interesting relationship with the compositions that he presented last summer at the Bastion of St. George. They also have a play of light and color, an atmospheric journey.
Graphite Hand Study for the Pond
Even though the studies are complex, we can see the importance of the forms and the environment. It is like seeing stills from a movie–panoramic shots and close-ups of areas, bodies, rocks, clothes, legs, and arms. The pastel environmental studies have the scope of a theatrical setting; the forms rotate and move.
Graphite Bed and Rug Study for the Slipper
His work on the canvases is done in two technical stages. In the first, he paints a black and white underground in which the tonal scale of grays brings out the light and the forms. In the concluding stage, he applies colors in a more direct and free manner. On all three canvases there remain the charcoal grid markings which enable him to transfer information in the correct scale from the smaller studies.
Newberry has consciously selected the working drawings and the “work in progress” paintings for this exhibition. He presents real observations, fictitious flights, and perspective drawings in these studies. The subject of paintings persists in the studies. What also is prominent is the importance of fabric as a compositional and color unit. The fabric studies are in pencil and pastel. The studies taken as a whole have something of the rhythm of a musical composition.
As the unfinished paintings don’t have a formal title, for the time being, I will give them temporary titles:
First, The Man by the Water. Nature? Idealization of Nature? Creation of Nature?
It is a painting full of light. Our eyes turn automatically to the source of light, which is to the right somewhere outside of the painting. The central axis is horizontal with the water in the foreground, the mid-ground is the form of the reclining man, and the background is of rocks and sky. The composition is carefully designed with mostly converging diagonal lines. A sense of peace and harmony come out through the sense of perspective and the detailing of the various elements. We have the picture of a beautiful, inspired moment that gives you the impression that you can actually put your fingers into the water and share the moment. The rocks in the depth and the water in front are a fantastic, idealistic landscape which comes to play equally important roles with the protagonist of the painting.
All this is lit by a gentle light. The light creates the color and tonal contrast in the painting. The quietly exalted dreamer is matched by the landscape, which is not a copy of nature but is a concept of nature.
Newberry creates a picture full of points which makes us think. The water on which the man reflects gives us the impression of a lake more than of the sea. The rolled up sleeves, the open shirt, the thin material of the slacks gives us a sense that the light on them is a warm light. The clothes are beautiful and soft as if woven by the light. The hues are warm and idyllic. Has the man just laid down? Is he going to put his leg in the water?
Graphite Pants Leg Study for the Pond
Graphite Male Nude Study for the Pond, private collection
Second, The Man: Energy/The Man Exalted
This is a big composition that is in transition from b/w underground painting to color overlay. The subject is a man on his outspread knees, with his eyes and mouth open wide, and the outreaching hands extended in an ecstatic gesture. The man is releasing a current of fantastic light, that weaves and curves through the night space. There are rocks in the foreground and underneath him. In the background there is an indication of mountains to come. The artist is beginning to apply color to his b/w underground work but the vibrations of light and shadow are perceptible.
The man is naked, unaffected, pure. And he becomes one with the energy. The man is a physical catalyst for the expression of the light; the light is the man’s nature.
Charcoal Releasing Light Male Nude Study for God Releasing Stars into the Universe, private collection
Pastel Color Study for God, private collection
Pastel Atmosphere Study for God
God Releasing Stars into the Universe, oil on linen, 82 x 66″, studio inventory.
Third, The Woman Kicking Off Her Slipper: Narration of an Act. The woman is the heroine of the scene. She dictates the image. The composition is made up of several diagonal axis lines–efflux and effusion–her arms, her legs, beams of light, accented lines of fabric all shoot out from the woman’s midsection. The depth and the environment have not been painted in yet but she has confidence that they will be made just for her. Soft fabrics, full of curves and sensuality, and warm and charming colors surround her. We have the sense that if we lean sideways, we will see her from a new perspective, perhaps the line of her stomach or the profile of her breast. The sole of her out-shot foot is curvy and pliant, and at the same time it is a provocative compositional abstract shape. Not only do her hands express, but also her entire figure represents a gigantic gesture: joyful, irreverent, and erotic. The story that Newberry narrates is full of details: the woman’s smile, the flung fabrics, and the unabashed expression combined with enticingly warm hues. The woman’s form is molded from the dancing, colorful light that energizes her skin.
Graphite Atmospheric Thumnail Study for the Slipper
Oil Thumbnail Study for the Slipper, private collection
Graphite Female Nude Study for the Slipper, private collection
The Slipper, oil on linen, 46 x 46″, private collection.