"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
Years ago I took a pastel painting trip of a lifetime, for three months I traveled from Athens, Greece to many islands, eventually to Istanbul, and slowly back again to Athens. My first island was Tinos, from the harbor I rented a scooter, booked a tiny house outside of town for 15 dollars a night. The porch had a sloping view over gray-green olive groves down to the dark and brilliant ultramarine blue Mediterranean, about 300 ft to the left was a small, room-sized luminous white-plastered Byzantine church.
My first day I loaded my backpack with my 200 piece pastel set, and packed several sheets of full-size pastel paper in my large portfolio bag, swung the bulky bags over my shoulder. Weighed down, I then swung my right leg over the scooter and the momentum carried me, the bags, and the scooter to crash to pavement. Laying painfully on my side, the pastels scattered on the ground, and with the scooter pinning me down I couldn’t get up. An elderly Greek woman dressed in black tending the church next door witnessed it all. And she kindly helped me get up through my blushing burn of embarrassment. Once I was upright she helped me collect the pastels. Not speaking any English, she took my arm to follow her to her favorite view of the church, and through hand gestures suggested that I draw it.
I worked till 6 am getting these ready to be signed. So far this week the series has 12 little paintings, the recent 7 here. The Animal Lifted Embargo Series has significantly changed my opinion about including animals in my paintings. They really help set off the scale and atmosphere of the landscapes. I am surprised that just two tiny marks, in the case of the sandpipers, can reset the landscapes dramatically.
If you click on the images in will take you to each painting’s page on my archive including the pricing. If you love one of them be sure to let me know and we can make owning it happen.
Just signed, 2nd in my Animal Lifted Embargo Series
hahah, I am enjoying the animal lifted embargo. I can’t stand painting little people in landscapes, makes my skin crawl when I see other painters do it. I love plein air painting being outdoors in a beautiful place just painting what I see, it feels like channeling the universe’s energy. But all landscapes have abundant life seen and unseen. For instance, while painting this there was behind me a pelican ferociously nose-diving into the water to pinch fish. Its only this last week I lifted the embargo on painting animals–I kept thinking of those horrible paintings of animals dressed as humans playing billiards or smoking cigars around the poker table. Can you imagine the psychology of the person that sees themselves that way? “Don’t mind me I am just a pug dressed as a human.”
There is an exciting tension in placing an animal just right, it seems to set off the landscape and definitely twerks the composition, like a zigzag incorporating the direction of the light, the bird’s flight path, the feeling of “lift,” setting off the formal composition of the water and land masses. Delightfully fun.
Just finished this. Taking a little one week break, perhaps two, from painting on Model in the Studio, I am revisiting some small plein air paintings. A departure for me is that I painted in this dog into the landscape. Artistically I love what it did to the composition, creating a “<” axis from the highlighted glimmer to the dog, then to the bottom right corner. I also love the mood of it. In the past I have rejected doing animals because humanity is at the forefront of my mind. I love my dog, Frida, and she loves me, but she doesn’t even glance at my art. :(
Some very interesting aesthetic problems with philosophical implications are the size of the subject in relation to the canvas and what that subject is. I know this sounds highbrow but bear with me, or at least indulge me to share the kind of thing I think about when painting. Most of my definitive works feature humans and their size dominates the canvas–they feature prominently in the painting’s universe. Landscapes serve well as a back drop for human activity, or when it is just a landscape there is an implication that we as humans are looking at it through a window of our beautiful home, or a view from a hike, or day at the beach. Though, if you take a naked landscape literally, with no humans present, it could imply that humankind does not exist–a very interesting rabbit hole to go down. There are also the cases of massive landscapes with tiny itty-bitty people implying that humanity is insignificant to the awesomeness of the universe. But seriously, if there are no humans or aliens, the concept of a caring or meaningful existence simply wouldn’t exist. My conclusion is that humans are top dogs when it comes to the humanities and to our psychology.
Many friends have asked me if I have painted Frida, which so far is a “no.” I just can’t bring myself to do a dog portrait (though I did one as an 18-year old for a fraternity brother as a fine art major). It feels like I would be elevating them above humanity. But with this new mini series with smally painted animals accenting the comparatively larger landscapes, it definitely feels like a massive “YES!” It makes sense to me that animals figure in our universe but do not rise up to the stature of humanities uniqueness, which art, philosophy, language, politics, and spirituality matter. So it is official!–I have lifted the animal embargo and now feel free to paint animals as long as they are tiny enough not to upsurge humanity.
Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/1/2020
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this, you must have some interesting ones.
In my workshops students have plenty of time to compose the work, the line drawing set up before painting begins. The following tutorials show techniques you can focus on as you map out the painting’s composition.
The lesson in three words: Make interesting corners. In this tutorial I show how some of greatest artists of composition, Vermeer, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, Diebenkorn, and Velazquez make fascinating shapes and lighting in the corners. It is a very simple way to get the most out of your composition without having to remember a million rules!
Though this tutorial is not strictly about composition it will be helpful to see how one can organize abstract shapes in a compositional way. Using Rembrandt, Kline, and Monet I show how they group things into broader abstract shapes. This is an extremely powerful technique that gives the viewer an epic journey through the big picture.
A very surreal artist’s perspective but indispensable to give life to your painting is accenting the negative spaces of things. I go into detail showing how Monet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, myself, and William Wray manipulate negative space to create a sense of movement in the painting. If you can take a few seconds, while composing, to check the negative spaces it will add tremendously to making a powerful painting.
This is a very helpful article on how Picasso and Hefferlin arrange their compositions, and how Melissa manages to do so in a realistic way.
When you are taking a workshop with me you don’t have to hold all this info in your head, that is my job, but it is good to read up on these tutorials. I hope you enjoy them and I guarantee you that adding them to your technique will feel great and raise your art up a few levels.
For more about studying with me please introduce yourself and your work via email, mtnewberry at gmail dot com.
The very first thing I teach in workshops is to compose using triangulation. It is a sight method of finding two main landmarks then triangulate to find the third landmark. The problem: when you are just drawing freely it is easily to over generalize, and it doesn’t take much to mess it up. Instead of getting a beautifully natural looking landscape, portrait, or building, you are left with something warped. Often master artists use variations of triangulation and other techniques in their mind’s eye, so you don’t see them literally draw in angles, so it appears like magic when they place things perfectly!
In this pastel drawing I started on the left bank drew the direction of the slope to the right edge, using my finger or pastel stick to mimic the slant. Then using the same technique finding the slant of the center of the palm in relation to the 2 edges.
The video above thoroughly details the process. How to use the pencil as a view finder, and using an imaginary clock face. This lesson makes for an excellent class. About 10 min.
In our last workshop in Provence, the wind really picked up and sought refuge in a wonderful church. A church interior had a high vaulted ceiling and windows placed in curved walls, they triangulation really helped get those nuances. This is the demo from there, time-lapse, 34 sec.
Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong, her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.
Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer
Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project.
In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then.
In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats.
The following is a version of my part of a joint presentation with Stephen Hicks given at the first ever Malibu Summit student retreat hosted by The Atlas Society on June 29, 2019 at Scorpiesse in Malibu, California.
June 29th, 2019 at Scorpiesse – Stephen Hicks talks with Atlas Advocates at The Malibu Summit.
An Impasse Between Creating and Destroying
The contrast between postmodernism and what I call “evolutionary art” is both epistemological, in the sense of how the art is made and the knowledge behind it, and metaphysical, what kind of subjects are important. Postmodern art is about seeking new means and content to challenge the very concept of art. Evolutionary art builds on the contributions of great artists and great art movements with new insights into human psychology and aesthetic means. Philosopher and The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D, summarizes the difference this way: it is the difference between a master making a stained glass window and the moron that throws a rock and smashes it!
Louise Bourgeois vs. Martine Vaugel
Louise Bourgeois at MOMA. “Untitled” (1998), fabric and stainless steel at center
The postmodern works I am including are considered important by important art institutions. A defining moment and lifelong obsession of French-American postmodern artist Louise Bourgeois was the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess. Bourgeois was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and had her own salon called Bloody Sunday. She referred to her early to later work as “fear of falling…art of falling…and the art of hanging in there.” Not an abstract artist, not a competent drawer or sculptor, with no discernible standards of any kind, she didn’t use art as a means of personal evolution, to grow both technically and soulfully. Instead her works convey that she remained stuck in a regressive emotional intelligence state, which conveyed the only kinds of emotions available to a hopelessly incompetent artist – pain, anxiety, and confusion.
A great example of her arrested development is this untitled head shown at her retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Clumps of wool clobbered together to form a cylinder base and a cotton ball-like head, which is then crudely sowed over with pink-flesh colored compression wrap bandages, wrapping the nose, stitched over mouth, and stuffed into the empty eyeball sockets. A cauliflower ear is formed grotesquely out of the same stuff. One has to call into question, not how pathetic her work is, but what is her motive for exhibiting it, and what are the motives of the critics, curators, and directors who give her a reputation that only the awesome prestigious power of New York’s great art institutions can give. Empathy for humanity may be in the press release, but there is a deeper motive that they may not want to examine.
Martine Vaugel, is a contemporary French-American sculptor whose bronze figure and portrait sculptures are, in her words, the “expression of my love affair with the human spirit.” She is the founder of the Vaugel Sculpture Method, a method of clay modeling based on her knowledge of human anatomy and mastery of structure.
My brother committed suicide and this is a memorial drawing.
A Reddit commentator gave condolences and then wrote “I love the grain of the table magnified by the water in the glass.” That names so well the visual.
The Problem with Glass
Michelangelo paints and draws humans not so much how he sees them but what his hands would feel massaging their bodies. Bone stands out and soft spots become indented. Glass is tricky because we literally see through it but if you draw it that way it doesn’t feel tactically real. See if you can observe that the patterns inside the glass float up to the front side of the glass; as if you could reach out and tap the glass.
The illusionist exhibition at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA. April 6- May 21, 2019
Oh god, the exhibition is a living nightmare. I prefer the worst/best of postmodernism, at least Duchamp cleverly matched ends and means. But, with only a few exceptions, this show is about classical technique with creepy content. You can see the show online on critic Joseph Bravo’s Facebook page.
It would be horrific if we saw a woman opening her chest to let birds fly out or the dancing skeletons of a pair of baby conjoined twins! But the technique is so bland and plastic-like that it leaves us feeling nothing about Yagi’s subject matter.