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 was a crazy split in art history between the modernist perspective of being true to the surface of the canvas vs. the classical window looking at out the world. Paradoxically, both are true but they missed what connects them: light and color vibrations dance on our cornea’s surface.
The recent color charts below are a range of colors of different tones and hues. The project was to bring each color up to the surface, they feel about 1/8″ above the surface as if they are painted ceramic chips. I successfully tweaked them until the paint raised the vibration of the color. Then I began editing small 9×12″ paintings from a trip on Route 66. In each I brought the color vibrations up to the surface yet maintained the “window on to the world”. Notice the rocking horse’s cast green-yellow shadow, and how it rises to the surface yet still resonates as a shadow.
Armed with this new insight I have been applying it to my current life size humanist work, a nude at home in my studio sanctuary. Integrating this new process will be my evolutionary project for the coming years.
Cutting to the chase a painting that is flat is more like a cereal box than like a Rembrandt. What makes painting interesting is transforming forms, depth, and light from the real world to a canvas. It is a very complex visual language that conceptualizes how we see, and it triggers suspension of disbelief, rewarding us with the perception of movement and light. A painter cannot just cut and paste reality to the canvas, the transition deals with how we perceive, how light bounces off forms and textures, painting techniques, and oddly, even how well our studios are calibrated for light.
Some years ago I was having trouble painting. I would stand back and see a mistake and try to paint a correction, but when I got up close to the painting I just couldn’t capture the nuance I was hoping for. I was getting near 60 years old and I decided to totally re-educate myself about painting (even though I already had four decades of painting behind me). The project was to paint a sandstone orb that has personal significance to me. My studio has the greatest daylight from 11 am to noon, and I like to paint into the night, so figuring out the artificial light was essential. I painted each orb under different artificial lighting conditions. I also used every painting technique I knew, from thin liquid applications to scumbling to super thick blobs of paint. This series of nine alla prima paintings, all in private collections, were the result of these explorations.
In the last year I have been feeling grateful for friends, the beauty of Idyllwild, the ability to create so freely, and being in the right place to enjoy them all so much.
How does an atheist find images to express that? These overlapping hands had an abstract quality, something of a butterfly, and, for me, absolutely a feeling of thankfulness. A great pleasure to paint. Nod to Manet’s little fingers.
This painting and several recent works from Idyllwild will be in my show at the White Cloud Gallery in Washington, D.C. November 3rd – December 14th.
Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.
Idyllwild is a mythic place, if I were religious, I would say it one of God’s gardens. Indeed, if you were to wander the remote paths, you might actually come across a forest nymph interacting with nature. This year I made friends with Katie Bolin and her mate Ivan Ellirand, starting with a life-size painting of her pregnant and nude. This painting, Winter, is the follow-up and Ivan kindly granted me use one of his photos as a reference.
While painting it, I imagined it being one in a series of the four seasons. What do you think? Can you see it?
Throughout the day I see rabbits and squirrels scurrying and birds bounding and flying about. For fun, I embedded two birds and one rabbit in this painting, they are pretty well camouflaged — I doubt you find all three. Let me know if you do!
Earlier today I signed off on the third tattoo painting. The series was a fascinating excursion in which I contemplated how we sometimes become the artwork. I have always thought that was true in a metaphorical way, in the sense that when we are young, we often form our characters, unwittingly, by the influence of movies, literature, songs, paintings, or by sculptures. With tattoos it is the reverse, it is the person that becomes the canvas. They literally become the artwork.
The process of painting them was difficult and fun. It is like working a jigsaw puzzle in 3d, with each piece curved to fit the human form, and each piece occupying its unique spot in space.
The Tats Series is part of an ongoing project of abstract, realistic paintings destined for The White Cloud Gallery in Washington D.C. this fall.