Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

Effortless Complexity and Boundless Imagination

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. 

 Groupings

Hefferlin, Journey of a Higher Hare, oil on linen, 36” x 29″

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. 

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Icarus Landing: Incorporating and Transcending Two Major Traditions in Western Civilization

Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55″x36”, studio collection.
A tricky aspect to painting big-themed works is that they run the risk of becoming a mental construction. I painted the figure of Icarus alla prima, live from a model, giving the mythical figure a living flesh and blood presence. I particularly like the line of highlights extending from his shoulders to the tips of his fingers. That line gives a sense of kinetic energy and the indescribable feeling of a breeze pushing back gently to slow his descent. Hands and feet are, figuratively speaking, the high notes that make or break a work’s expression. I love the spatial movement from back to front separating his feet, and how his big toe is reaching out preparing for contact with the earth. This is my tribute to Michelangelo’s God reaching out to give the spark of life to Adam. Icarus’ dialog, in contrast, is between himself and Earth, just as my art is between me and the universe.

Freedom and Gravitas

For many people, the sexy, entitled lifestyle of living on the luxurious mile-long stretch of Pacific coastline in La Jolla, California in the 1960s was the height of success. For me as a kid it was exhilarating to build up a salty sunburned sweat, leap into the air, and be able to execute a brutal backhand overhead smash on the tennis court. (Later I ended up playing pro tennis to pay for my art education in Holland). Afterwards, to cool off, I’d ditch my shoes and socks and run a few hundred feet from the tennis court and plunge underneath the perfect wave crests made famous by the Beach Boys, All Over La Jolla … Surfin’ USA! The feeling of freedom was omnipresent; no rules, no school if you didn’t feel like going; no homework; and no curfew. It was as if kids had a built in automatic path, their destiny awaiting them, meanwhile they could do anything. There was also stuff you couldn’t talk about … which was way too complex for a kid to cope with. And later shushed because it involved people still alive. I lived in a world of physical fun with an ominous feeling that not all was well when you scratched the surface.

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Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019

Dream of Art History by F. Scott Hess

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.

Sandra Yagi
Sandra Yagi, photo Studio Channel Islands

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.

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Lighting the Darkness

Jon Wos, "Lighting The Darkness" Oil on Canvas 50.5" x 46"

Jon Wos, congratulations on the portrait. The pose is thoughtful, the proportions elegant, and you make great use of “Bouguereau” silver lining lighting. I like the texture and lighting of the dress, particularly the brilliant curve of light at the hemline that merges imperceptibly into shadow. And congratulations on being a romantic, though it can be tough because romanticism can trigger bullies, especially ones who can’t do better. I think my favorite painting of yours is the self-portrait with the lamp. I love it. The lighting, colors, forms, and the mysterious story are exceptionally well-integrated. The little dog sheltered underneath the wheelchair is very touching. The lamp lighting the scene is masterful; I prefer yours to some of the famous De La Tour paintings. I can’t put my finger on the mystery of what you (in the painting) are looking for, but the optimism of the colors, the brilliant clean light, and the frank expression makes me think that you have already found it. Perhaps it was something in you all along?

You can check out Jon’s work and poignant story here.

Jon Wos, "Lighting The Darkness" Oil on Canvas 50.5" x 46"
Jon Wos, “Lighting The Darkness” Oil on Canvas 50.5″ x 46″

Jon Wos, "Understated Elegance" 2018 Watercolor and Chalk 27" x 19"
Jon Wos, “Understated Elegance” 2018 Watercolor and Chalk 27″ x 19″

 

Newberry at To Dentro by Thodoris Archontopoulos

Archaeologist Thodoris Archontopoulos takes us on a journey through Newberry’s works in progress. Originally published in the Greek newspaper the Rodiaki, 1996.

Newberry, The Pond, wip, oil on linen

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

Pastel Color Study for the Pond

Atmosphere Graphite Study for the Pond.

Atmosphere Graphite Study for the Pond

Graphite Landscape and Water 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.

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Ascension Day Reviewed by Ted Keer

Newberry, "Ascension Day", oil on linen, 86 x 70 inches, private collection.

Newberry, "Ascension Day", oil on linen, 86 x 70 inches, private collection.
Newberry, “Ascension Day”, oil on linen, 86 x 70 inches, private collection.

Note: Ted Keer pass away last month, he had a wonderful curious mind, and it was an honor that he wrote something about a few of my works including the review below:

Michael Newberry’s “Ascension Day” is one of my favorite of his non-traditional paintings. I believe that the essence of my enjoyment is the fully worked out form which simultaneously presents both symmetry and asymmetry, beauty and tension, action and self-centeredness.

When I visited his studio, Michael and I discussed his axiomatic concepts of figurative painting which he designates as form, space and light. I don’t wish to comment at length on his theory, but those who wish to know what he has to say should visit his website and read his statements. I did not discuss this specific painting with Michael, and have intentionally not sought his remarks on it, so that I might comment without bias.

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Energizing the Eye: Abiodun Olaku

“In the broad valley, far below him, in the first sunlight of early morning, he saw a town. Only it was not a town. Towns did not look like that. He had to suspend the possible for a while longer, to seek no questions or explanations, only to look.”

The above was Ayn Rand’s description of Howard Roark’s Monadnock Valley development in The Fountainhead. Rand is revered — and reviled — as a philosopher and novelist, but to me she was also an artist. She defined art as a recreation of reality according to an artist’s values, and in her work, she recreated an inspirational world of heroes, light, and flourishing.

labour

That is why The Atlas Society chose art as an arena for intellectual and spiritual engagement with Ayn Rand’s ideas.  The 25-year-old philosophical organization capped 2016 with winners of first annual Atlas Art Contest. Over 400 entries were narrowed down to 21 artists by a panel of four judges: Sabin Howard, sculptor; Judd Weiss, photographer; Agnieszka Pilat, painter: and myself. The public was then invited to vote, further spreading the engagement with the outstanding work of our finalists.

The winners were, from first to third place, Abiodun Olaku, Eric Armusik, and Danielle Dalechek. Given Ayn Rand’s aesthetics, it is rather fitting that Olaku won first prize with his clean style, perspective, and nuanced light.

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Erotic Symbolism in Visual Art

Erotic Symbolism in Art

Erotic Symbolism in Visual Art by Michael Newberry

Erotic Symbolism in Art
O’Keeffe, 1923, Grey Line with Black, Blue, and Yellow

Representational painting, such as landscapes, people, and furniture, is normally viewed at face value. A flower is just a flower; a chair a chair. But the manner in which an artist uses shapes can convey more than the literal content of the painting.

Once you grasp how an artist plays with shapes to convey another layer of meaning it can open up a universe of deeper insight and, sometimes, powerfully erotic subtexts. You may never see art again in the same way.

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Jacob Collins, Sensuous Nature of Light

Jacob Collins

Jacob Collins, Sensuous Nature of Light by Michael Newberry

To talk about the art of Jacob Collins is to talk about his inquisitiveness.

Jacob Collins is a contemporary realist artist. He paints and draws portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, and nudes. Across the board, he imbues them all with sensuous light and an aptitude for finely wrought detail. He reminds me of a scientist who shines a light on an object to see it to full advantage. And like a scientist, he sees beauty in realizing his understanding of things. He told me “I find beauty in observing and in furthering my knowledge about light, the identity of plants and trees, and even such things as the nature of the formation of rocks and land masses.”

Currently, he is working on completing a landscape project of 50 oil paintings and graphite studies, with the centerpiece being a large landscape 50 x 100″. An exhibition of this landscape project will be on view May 8 – June 13, 2008, at Hirschl Alder Modern in New York City.

Jacob Collins

Jacob Collins

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Blarney at the Guggenheim

CREMASTER 3, by Matthew Barney

Blarney at the Guggenheim by Michael Newberry

CREMASTER 3, by Matthew Barney

A review of a one-day visit to the Guggenheim’s Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, June 2003.

The Cremaster Cycle exhibition is a project of five films with some of the sets and props that have doubled as installations. A few unique mediums he works with are tapioca and Vaseline. The cremaster is the involuntary muscle that creates the rising and falling of the scrotum.

A Jerry Saltz, art critic for the Village Voice, comments that he has loved everything Barney has done since a 1990 group show: “Suddenly, this 22-year-old appeared naked, in a videotape, climbing ropes, then lowering himself over a wedge of Vaseline and applying dollops of it to his body.”

He continues: “Since then, Barney has been able to do no wrong by me, which is exactly the kind of unequivocal wet kiss from a critic I hate.”

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