Going To the Otherside of the World, John’s Sunset

Newberry, John's Sunset, 2010, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"
Newberry, John’s Sunset, 2010, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26×19″

Today I packed and sent John’s Sunset, along with 3 other works, to family in Australia.

The drawing is a memorial to my brother, John. It was an artwork I did not want to do, not because of the technical issues drawing a realistic glass tumbler, but because in the process of drawing it (25 hours) would flood my consciousness with overwhelming memories. Yet I was certain I would do it, because an important part of being an artist is to face the depths of their psyche.

Making art can be similar to recreating a dream with all its symbolism, connotations, and eerie other-worldness. It is truly amazing that an artist can come up with any vision, even more so for an important subject like saying goodbye to a sibling. Should it be a portrait? Should it be a life event? Should it reflect my emotions, but how would that work? Should it be symbolic? Will anyone understand, or does that matter?

I allowed myself to use free associations, a disjointed mental montage of images that brought up distinct and strong feelings in me, while holding that this piece would be about my brother, or how I knew him.

There is an old black/white movie I saw as a kid on TV. It was a foreign film, Mexican or South American (magical realism?). I don’t remember any dialog, heavily symbolic, and it had music. There was a boy about my age at the time, 11 years old. He was playing a violin, a very sad romantic melody, he was standing on a floating raft of straw, in a lake with mountains surrounded it. Ominously the lake’s waters formed a vortex which slowly pulled the boy on the raft into it. The boy continued to play the haunting violin oblivious to the danger. The vortex grew deeper and wider, gently rotating the boy’s raft as it pulled them both down into the underworld. [If you know of the name of the film please let me know, I could not find it online.]

The movie scared the bejesus out of me and I have never forgotten that experience. When I started to think about the drawing for John, I could not get that image out of my head.

We all grew up on the beach in La Jolla, with its incredible coves, beaches, and hillsides to explore. John was discovered floating in the water of the La Jolla Cove.

Sycamore trees are very common in Southern California and they have seed pods, that have a sad spiky nature, that visualize both defensiveness and aggression.

When I set up the still life with dark velvet background the glass picked up and magnified patterns that look like eddies in the water. And they reinforced the eerie image of the vortex.

The final touch of the drawing was the little glint of light on the upper rim of the glass. In La Jolla there was a large cross on the top of Mount Soledad. It was an important landmark in our minds, we never rarely mentioned street names but landmarks like the cove, cross, beach club, shores, pier, and Anthony’s (a fish restaurant, also above the cove.) For the glint of light I tried to suggest within it the cross that overlooked La Jolla.

Tonight I was chatting with a friend about unwelcomed emotional reactions to people. Art is perhaps the most magical and healthy phenomenon we have, part of that is that it is the safest place to explore and examine our psyches. We can go over events, loves, relations; we can project scenarios, imagining both positive and negative outcomes. We can rehash the past emotions, and delve deeper into them—all this without triggering others directly. We can see, as if it is happening to us, consequences of living—how to cope with love, what kinds of things cause unhappiness, and etc.

In making this piece I got feel a sincere empathy for my brother that I never had while he was alive. And that makes a difference for all the living people he touched.

Michael, Idyllwild, 12/17/2021

Frame of References:

Funerary Art. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funerary_art

Stanska, Zuzanna. 2018. 12 Famous Funeral Paintings of Western Art, Daily Art Magazine. https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/funeral-paintings-of-western-art/

Mark D, La Jolla Cove, 2013
Mark D, La Jolla Cove, 2013

Newberry, Michael. Rend. An article discussing coping with death and the resultant drawings. https://newberryarchive.wordpress.com/2019/02/02/rend/

Newberry, Michael. Portrait of Ralph (b. 1996-d. 2016) Commentary and Time-Lapse https://newberryarchive.wordpress.com/2021/07/05/portrait-of-ralph-b-1996-d-2016-commentary-and-time-lapse-by-michael-newberry/

2 Replies to “Going To the Otherside of the World, John’s Sunset”

  1. Hey Michael:

    Wonderful insight and due care and mourning, as best you can. You do care. May God seize your soul and give it the bolt of lighting to keep you propelling onwards.

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