Exploration

Exploring the Boundaries of Abstraction, Color, Composition, and Other Directions.

As a 17-year-old art student my art education was primarily postmodern, meaning they didn’t teach realistic drawing or painting. I learned about manipulating visual ideas and to examine the unknown. But my soul loves form, light, space, and perception and to use those to build as high and far as I can. Though I am a romantic realist I love to expand to the outer edges of representational art. But like moving towards a cliff, you’ve got to pull back before going over the edge–a serious artist that disconnects from reality free-falls into a psychotic abyss and becomes the voice of the living dead. The alternative is that by seeing everything outside and inside of us, and connecting the dots we become magnificently alive and fearlessly free to explore existence, and turn those experiences into treasures of creativity.

The following works represent my explorations:

I mentored the famous designer Chan Luu for almost a decade, and we had so much fun exploring art techniques and sometimes pushing content boundaries. Whispers, one of my largest paintings 7×6′, with it I explored how far I could push realistic abstraction. This painting is actually realistic–it is incense smoke wafting through space.

Newberry, Whispers at Chan Luu Hill House, oil on linen, 84x72"
Newberry, Whispers at Chan Luu Hill House, oil on linen, 84×72″

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The oil painting Santa Monica Gold Apartments was based on plein air pastel on fire engine red paper. The idea is that the shadows are infused with red instead of classical brown or black. It sounds simple enough but it is totally mind-bending trying to manage the truth of applying the colors and lights. “If this dark is red instead of brown, what color would be a gold highlight?”

Newberry, Santa Monica Gold Apartment, 2014, oil on canvas, 18x24"
Newberry, Santa Monica Gold Apartments, 2014, oil on canvas, 18×24″

While I work on major works, at this time I was painting Venus, I take breaks by painting small works exploring something, it is like hitting the refresh button. With Bowl I was toying with how well I could make a beautiful, unexpected, and organic composition.

Newberry, Bowl, 2004, oil on canvas, 12x9"
Newberry, Bowl, 2004, oil on canvas, 12×9″

Opening is such an odd painting, undoubtedly influenced by Georgia O’Keeffe, appropriately as I painted it in a Santa Fe, New Mexico! I was exploring four things: successfully making a black hole; how many variations on white could paint; how far could I push the abstraction of it; and could I make the petals feel alive and unfolding like those seaworms you see in nature films?

Newberry, Opening, 2015, oil on linen, 28x24"
Newberry, Opening, 2015, oil on linen, 28×24″

I have been painting forever everyday, 4 and half decades, and a couple of years ago I thought I was having trouble seeing. I had my eyes checked and they were excellent so I concluded I was simply stuck. So I created a six-month self direct study course relearning everything I knew about studio art. I re-calibrated my studio lights and with these 8 studies I re-visited color theory. These were all painting Alla Prima via live, but in every case I gave a distinct hue/color to the shadows and to the spatial atmosphere. An easy example is blue shadows in a landscape with blue mountains in the far distance. But what happens when the shadow and depth is a sienna color? or cerulean blue?

Newberry, 8 Shadow Color Studies, 2015, oil on panel, 10x8"
Newberry, 8 Shadow Color Studies, 2015, oil on panel, 10×8″

Aside from having fun with the concept of making an oil painting of soft chalk pastels, I played with three things in this painting: It was to fun to paint the perspective looking straight down on this still life; taking on the challenge of forming so many pastels in so many colors; and in classical color theory it is generally assumed that warm colors come forward and cool colors go back. So for fun I reversed that concept to see what would happen.

Newberry, Pastels, 1994, oil on panel, 12x9"
Newberry, Pastels, 1994, oil on panel, 12×9″

Jar is one of my favorite little paintings, perhaps helped by the memory of the sound of Kauai rainfall just outside? It was a demo on color theory of light and shade. The concept was that the depth and shadows were tinted by magenta and its opposite color of lime yellow would imbue the light areas. Some concrete mentalities insist that just painting exactly what you see in 3d will transfer well to a 2d surface of the canvas. But it doesn’t work that way, you have to use your knowledge of painting and re-interpret reality to make it feel real on the canvas. I could have taken this same still life and giving it blue-tinted shadows and orange lights, etc.

Newberry, Jar, 2016, oil on panel, 9x12"
Newberry, Jar, 2016, oil on panel, 9×12″

My older brother is deceased and when I heard about it I needed to take time to reflect on him, and my relationship with him. Instead of going for long walk on the beach I choose to draw this charcoal drawing. I took 25 hours to explore symbolism and my emotions to our past events. It was a very beautiful and unexpected experience.

Newberry, John's Sunset, 2016, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"
Newberry, John’s Sunset, 2016, charcoal on Rives BFK, 26×19″

I have only made two political art works this one and Revolution is in the Air. Hopefully they general and universal enough so that they don’t descend into propaganda. It was a real still life on a glass table of the children’s little plastic figures of cowboys and Indians. I explored the symbolism of the head of state or the general at the top at the page aiming his guns at both his team and the enemies; and the two forces are all aiming in the same direction. I also explored manipulating the spatial relationships by changing the line quality.

Newberry, Cowboys and Indians, 2004, graphite on Rives BFK, 19x24"
Newberry, Cowboys and Indians, 2004, graphite on Rives BFK, 19×24″

Normal portraits of head and shoulders run the risk of being tremendously boring. With these three I got them to pose their entire bodies with emphasis on the placement of their feet. A funny thing happened was that the tilt and placement of their heads became unique result of their pose, which was not included in the composition. I learned so much from doing them.

Definitely one of my most intimate paintings, a self-portrait while I was feeling a longing for a romantic relationship. To keep it from being morbid I imagined I held a can a whipped cream behind my back. When I started it I thought it would be a few hours work, maybe 12 hours. But it turned into a 6-month project, 3-hours every evening. The set up light was a narrow spot shining on my stomach, and it felt intensely hot, while the rest of my body felt the chill of fall and winter season in Greece. Literally the light was a cold bluish tint, but that color didn’t feel right. I wanted the painting to convey how hot the spot light felt so I gave the light the hottest scarlet I could painting and I contrasted that with the most chilly blues I could make. Amazingly it feels like real light in the painting, even when I take it into an extremely dimmed light room.

Newberry, Longing, 2001, acrylic on board, 26x20"
Newberry, Longing, 2001, acrylic on board, 26×20″

I heard so often, from college days and beyond, from stupid-ass postmodernists that everything in figurative art had been done so there was no point working in the past. Yet, I knew with certainty from my 20’s on that there was an amazing universe of figurative art yet to be explored. One of the keys to uniqueness was to explore, as deeply as possible, one’s inner specific feelings and work with the model until that feeling was triggered–that pose would at least be a real genuine feeling. With Study for the Slipper, I wanted to convey the feeling of bursting with joy and freedom. The result was a powerfully original composition.

Newberry, Study for the Slipper, 1993, graphite on Rives BFK, 20x18"
Newberry, Study for the Slipper, 1993, graphite on Rives BFK, 20×18″

A lot of artists feel blase about joy and more positive emotions and relish their rage and depression. I have the opposite, joy unleashes my most powerful visions. The general composition for this couple was an uneven starburst. Notice the rough triangular negative spaces of their uplifted arms, and intents at their waists, and the “V” of their legs. Kind of insane! The math that went into this was intense, they posed separately in my studio. I placed tape on the floor marking my position, the easel, the models’ center of gravity, and I taped the wall where their hands would meet based on my perspective. It was awesome when they came to pose together for the joining of their hands, and it all fit!

Newberry, Study for the Lovers Jumping, 2003, graphite on Rives BFK, 13x18"
Newberry, Study for the Lovers Jumping, 2003, graphite on Rives BFK, 13×18″

Pastel is my favorite medium to explore unique color harmonies. Working from direct perception I literally see a kaleidoscope warm and cool colors and I keep layering and alternating them until they click.

Newberry, Seating Female, 1986, pastel on dark paper, 13x18"
Newberry, Seating Female, 1986, pastel on dark paper, 13×18″

A strange optical illusion: the glass windows reflected the light areas but I could see into the dark reflections, seeing through the glass into the room on the other side. The light rectangle is the front door’s view window at the far end of the room. I enjoy painting this light in my head.

Newberry, Light Box, 2005, oil on panel, 12x9"
Newberry, Light Box, 2005, oil on panel, 12×9″

I have no tattoos and no piercings but I found people who have them to be some of the most sensitive and sweetest people I have every met. While I make art they actually become living, walking artworks. It is paradox when you paint a model that is also literally an artwork–it becomes a painting within a painting. Mind-bending.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my explorations.