"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
I was very fortunate to have met and studied with Michael when I did. As a beginning artist and painter, I found myself overwhelmed at times— as most beginning artists do— in trying to discover a tangible process of “making art.” The most important thing I learned from Michael is how to draw correctly, and understanding values. These are the building blocks that all artists must learn. It also serves as a segue into plein air and studio painting.
Michael’s understanding of the human form, and of color theory are remarkable, and he explains them in a way that are easy to grasp. No matter what level artist you currently are— from beginner to practicing professional, I can’t recommend a mentorship with Michael Newberry more. Thank you, Michael, for what you have taught me, and for the doors it has opened.
“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…'”
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.
How Michael Newberry rediscovered the role of color in creating the illusion of depth and space.
The Grizzly Professor
Edgar Ewing came through the door. The students beheld a tweed suit topped with a grizzly gray mustache and sparkling blue eyes. He moved with the melody of confidence and the whimsy of delight. He set down his case on the table, spread his arms, and smiled at the the classroom of freshman students. “Making art,” he announced “is like making love.”
The students looked at one another with sidelong smiles, most of them inexperienced with one or the other part of the metaphor, and certainly not fathoming the connection between the two. It was the first day of a fundamentals of oil painting class at USC. The year was 1974. To read more and see large images at Medium
There is a magnificent show in the heart of Los Angeles on La Cienega through December 26th that will be one of the most humanist, empathetic, and beautiful exhibitions you will have experienced within the last decade. Tanya Ragir fearlessly dives into our hopes and dreams, regrets, loss, love, and even chaos. Her pieces are the answers to questions about how to handle pain, how to cope, and how to find meaning. My written review of the show here.
Paul Rego is an artist that has a great reputation in the western art world, with shows at such esteemed places as Marlborough Fine Art, the Tate, and at the eponymous museum Casa das Histórias Paula Rego in Cascais, Portugal. She was made a Dame of the British Empire, and she has several honorary degrees, including one from Oxford. Her works, many of them large, are creepy, figurative narratives with distorted proportions, often dead colors, and intellectual rather than a sensory experience of light. Her works remind us of Lucian Freud’s ugly rendering of people and of Paul McCarthy’s myriad celebration of disgust, such as his turning Disney and other cartoon characters into self-mutilating, loathsome, and sinister monsters.
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.