"Newberry's work speaks to the senses, the intellect, and the passions of those who do not need the judgment of history to tell them what is great, but who can themselves make the judgment of history today." Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, critique.” And no one represents this weakness better than Jerry Saltz, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his article, “My Life as a Failed Artist.”
Jerry Saltz writes about his younger artist self: “In 1973, I was 22, full of myself, and frustrated that I wasn’t already recognized for my work.” But a few years later he had some great acceptance from the art world: museum purchases, a $3,000 NEA grant in 1978 money, reviewed in Artforum, exhibited with Barbara Gladstone Gallery and with Rhona Hoffman. He was ecstatic with the recognition, yet he had a nagging contempt for his art:
“But then I looked back, into the abyss of self-doubt. I erupted with fear, self-loathing, dark thoughts about how bad my work was, how pointless, unoriginal, ridiculous. ‘You don’t know how to draw,’ I told myself. ‘You never went to school. Your work has nothing to do with anything. You’re not a real artist. Your art is irrelevant. You don’t know art history. You can’t paint… No one cares about you. You’re a fake…'”
“Lynia” is my first and so far only sculpture. It is dated circa 1978 maybe 1979, I would have only been 22 or 23 years old. I sculpted it at the Free Academy Psychopolis in The Hague, Holland. It was a marvelous school, no teachers! They had models everyday, all day, and they had facilities for printmaking, sculpture, and life drawing sessions. I did this as an exploration to see if I could do it. Even today, I think “wow, this is really good look at that ear!” Even more remarkable is I was never taught figure in drawing, painting, or sculpture–my 3 years of fine art at USC, didn’t teach the figure. They just left us to our own devices and played with postmodernism.
I met Thodoris in the Fall of 1994 in Rhodes, Greece. Incredibly smart, both an archaeologist and an art historian with a perfectionist integrity for styles, dates, and research in art. It was a huge honor that he made a presentation and wrote the review for my 1996 show at To Dentro, in Rhodes, Greece. The review was published in the Greek newspaper the Rodiaki. The show was about the creative process for large definitive works that were then works in progress. A few years later, the same show but with the completed definitive works became an international traveling exhibition “Visions” 1998 November-Athens College, Athens, Greece; August-Ministry of Greek Culture, Rhodes, Greece; July-institute for Objectivist Studies, Summer Seminar, Boulder, Colorado.
Roger Scruton’s excellent presentation Why Beauty Matters, a BBC production, has seen a resurgence, over a million views on this embedded YouTube video. Several people have forwarded it to me and I remember seeing it ages ago. In re-watching it I was struck by the coincidence of the same four postmodern works in his presentation and in my article Pandora’s Box Part III. I was kind of horrified that I might have subconsciously lifted them from him without being aware of it. I didn’t.
I was relieved that my article Pandora’s Box Part III was published in the Free Radical (magazine and online) in 2002, while this Scruton publication was released almost 8 years later in November 2009. The four works are canned shit, Manzoni’s Merde d’artista; empty room, Creed’s The Lights Going On and Off; a urinal, Duchamp’s The Fountain; and bricks in a room at the Tate by Andre.
Scruton discusses them at 5:25 to 5:48 and he says: “It has been interrupted in another way by showing that anything can be art. Like a light going on and off, a can of excrement, or even a pile of bricks.”
In a section from my article which I discuss the postmodern works I write: “Kant’s concept of the formless nature of the sublime is the ideological birthplace of the postmodern aesthetic that art, visual art, doesn’t need to be expressed through the means of representational painting or sculpture. In practice, this aesthetic opened up the floodgates of a nihilistic revolution in the 20th Century in which postmodern artists deconstructed art and/or substituted any object but painting or sculpture for art, i.e. arranged rubbish, excrement, installations, etc.”
Bemusedly, I was wondering if my article was the source for “It has been interrupted…” I am just having a little fun figuratively flexing my muscles showing that I have been ahead of the curve. BTW, Pandora’s Box Part III is a wonderful article touching on a few of Kant’s concepts of the Sublime how they are connected to some horrible postmodern works, and I optimistically share some magnificent contemporary figurative works.
The embedded rocks and still-green tumble weeds were flying towards my tennis shoe covered feet, my outstretched hands steering my downward trajectory were being cut to slivers by the crystal rock veins lining the 40-ft ravine incline—the unexpected push and gravity created a reckless momentum that my brother hoped would be fatal. It was not.
Never turn your back on some people, or they will destroy you.
The Eyes of Rembrandt
If light could kiss this would be the most loving, achingly sensitive kinetic caress. Shadowed waves rose and glided back to the recesses, like invisible currents of air witnessing a glint of moisture and a warming pulse. This is where goodness lives. In the eyes of Rembrandt.
Myths, legends, and stories infiltrate our collective and individual consciousness, and the same holds true for the visual arts. The myth of Icarus, who flew too high then crashed and burned, was mentioned by Apollodorus around 150 BC and has since shown up countless times in visual art.
Icarus Landing, Phaethon, and Ayn Rand
An interesting twist in the legend comes with my 2000 version. The concept was inspired by Ayn Rand, who rewrote the myth of Phaethon in Atlas Shrugged. In the ancient myth, Apollo gives the reins of the sun chariot to his son Phaethon, who is unable to control the flying horses or escape his destiny. Phaethon and the chariot threaten to crash and annihilate Earth. Zeus, watching, kills Phaethon with a bolt of lightning, forcing Apollo to retake the reins and right the sun chariot’s course.
In Rand’s version, her character, Richard Halley, composes an opera in which Phaethon brilliantly succeeds to steer the sun chariot to a glorious course. I loved the concept of taking a tragic myth and changing the outcome to reflect my absolute inner belief that magnificent experiences are the stuff of living. The chariot thing was too archaic for my modern sensibility, but with some thought I landed on the concept of Icarus. After flying wildly high, I thought, Icarus would return to Earth with gentle gratitude, lit by the orange glow of the day’s setting sun. I opted for no wings, just the outstretched arms. Appropriately I painted this while I lived in Greece, and I won’t lie, I loved scaling the rock cliffs in the buff, jumping from rock to rock, as my friend philosopher David Kelley can attest to.
“Slipper is one of my favourites by artist Michael Newberry, who like all great literary and visual artists has the ability to conceive and create scenes of total originality that – just like the great myths and legends that had the dramatic power to last thousands of years in the retelling — once seen (or read) the world is inconceivable without them. In the simplest terms, such artists (and such myths) portray great and original scenes that so perfectly animate their theme the world was almost waiting for the artist to create them.
“Newberry does this with his Icarus Landing – the figure that conquers the fall of both Christ and Icarus, and puts man back in charge over his universe. He does it again with Artemis. And he does it too with Slipper, whose exuberance bursts out like a bullet in flight heading straight for the furthest horizon.
“Why have I chosen it for my first artistic post of the year? Because it encapsulates the sense of life I like to express in my architecture. The exuberance. The light. The feeling of release. The movement. The exaltation. It’s not an expression of repose I aim for in my work (which is what all the textbooks tell us we should aim for in our architecture – creating a sense of repose and then letting our buildings sink down into a sea of subdued magnolias, or pongas), it’s the controlled explosion of joy Newberry captures so perfectly here, and that’s so desperately hard to do well.
“It’s not so easy, but it’s the most fun when you can pull it off.”
(Authors note: This is one in a series of reviews of what is going on in contemporary museums of art. Like many of you I go to a contemporary art museum with an excited expectation that I am going to see today’s best living artists. Please keep that in mind after your read these reviews as it might seem that I purposefully sought out isolated freak shows–nope, just visiting the most respected museums of contemporary art and reporting what I see.)
The recently-established National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens gives us a look inside media manipulation with Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory. It is a documentary-like presentation about a notorious 1972 bank robbery in Brooklyn. The audio-visual installation, on loan from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
The Third Memory contains side by side two synchronized video projections that last about ten minutes, and reference materials and clips. The video projections juxtapose Huyghe’s reenactment/documentary-like reconstruction of a bank robbery that took place in Brooklyn, New York in 1972, and footage from Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975), a movie about that robbery. In Huyghe’s work the actual robber, John Wojtowicz, many years older and out of prison, retells, acts out, and analyzes the robbery on the sets used in Lumet’s movie. About The Third Memory Huyghe says it is “…the story of a man who was robbed, who was dispossessed, of his own image … the “author of an action” is given the opportunity to “speak up…in order to regain his place at the centre of the plot…”
The nude in art is one of the greatest means of expressing individuality. It bypasses the status of clothes and symbols and drives the focus towards character through body and facial expression. The nude asks the viewer to share their deeper, more personal thoughts about how they feel about who they are, their dreams, and their deepest beliefs.
Looking at Peter Schipperheyn’s Zarathustra we see a larger-than-life-sized man, arching back, and his head thrown back at an intense angle – the chin raised above the forehead. The body’s tone is taut, yet there is relaxed fluidity from limb to limb. He has the body of a world-class athlete, such as the current tennis great, Roger Federer. The most prominent gesture is the back of the closed fist meeting the open, extended hand.
An abstract aspect of this sculpture is the arc of the entire body – from the heel to the tip of the head. It conjures up the form of a bow, or of a tree limb a limb pulled back. This, combined with the smack of the hand, creates the sense of a springing force. The raised heel is understated, yet very challenging for the artist – it would be much easier to sculpt the feet flat-footed. The raised heel shifts the lower body forward, balancing the backwards arc, and enhancing the athletic litheness. This curve gently pushes the crotch forward, giving the sense of unselfconscious ease.
This was lecture by Rick hosted through the ICC Speaker Series on the Future of Art as he saw it and featured the work of Artist Michael Newberry. This was taped at the beautiful Creekstone Inn in Idyllwild, California, January 14th, 2016 Video 90-min
My dear friend Rick Barker gave this talk one year from passing away due to complications with Parkinson’s Disease. The talk is about my art and its context but from Rick’s perspective, a life long interest in human evolution. He wrote Transcending Evolution: A Christian Guide to Understanding, Accepting, and Transcending Evolution available at Amazon. I met him in the Idyllwild dog park when I first moved there. It was rewarding to be surrounded by sights, sounds, and smells of playful dogs, pines, and mountains, earthy dirt, and talk with him of philosophy and aesthetics. I lent him one of my paintings, Arabesque Series: Female Couple. He was terribly ill in the hospital in his last week and wanted to die at home, the next day he died; he was found on the floor with his head uplifted towards my painting.