The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting

Newberry, California High Desert, pastel on dark paper

The Problem: A Bright Sky

In real life the daylight sky is bright, much brighter than the landscape’s trees, vegetation, mountains, and water. Think of it as a large lamp. But when you paint a landscape truthfully the effect backfires, the sky will be bright but the earth part will be dull and muddy. Light on the green trees, stone buildings, and red flowers can’t complete with the sky’s light. Even though you are seeing a sun filled landscape, your painting won’t feel that way, but you’ll feel disappointed with your skills.

The Lie

Claude Monet Landscape
Claude Monet

Continue reading “The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting”

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.

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

Damn Complex Chaos to Visual Language

newberry-orb-3-oil-pc

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.

Eye Excitement: Why Ruins?

Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection
Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection
Rickety Courtyard Gate, Rhodes, pastel on dark paper, private collection

I have noticed lots of artists including myself are drawn into drawing abandoned places, scruffy landscapes, weathered shacks, and stone ruins. While a manicured lawn or polished mahogany conference table inspire a blau reaction. There is something visually exciting about the chaos of ruins but what is it that is triggering our vision? And why are paintings or drawings so boring when they are of pristine subjects? Vision scientists Jan Koenderink and Andrea van Doorn (a link to their abstract on pictorial space) talked with me over beers in Glasgow pub about how the eye goes blind if it cannot move about and compare and contrast tones and hues. Using my artist’s logic it makes sense that on the opposite end of the spectrum the eye becomes excited when each hue and tone is varied. My pastel of a rickety courtyard gate in Rhodes, Greece illustrates this.

Notice the gate is drawn with all kinds of unrepeated colors. The plastered gold side of the wall has countless hues ochre, and medieval stones are equally varied with its shifts between brown and gray. It seems like a lot to try to do in a 50-minute drawing, but I was helped along by all the setting’s details were all extremely varied. If you are an artist looking for something interesting to draw look for differences in everything. That will keep your eye busy and excited and the viewers’ too.

Michael Newberry

True Lies: Warp Negative Space

Rembrandt, Socrates Contemplating the Bust of Homer

True Lies: Warp Negative Space by Michael Newberry

Rembrandt, Socrates Contemplating the Bust of Homer

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
Picasso

With this tutorial I will show how to shape negative space by warping it, thereby creating a believable 3-D image on a 2-D surface.

Painting is made up of positive forms and negative spaces. Think of planets and the empty space between them. In this Rembrandt, one example of negative space is the dark triangular space between the bust, the back edge of the table, and the folds of the man’s sleeve.

Lost in Space

Many artists spend a great deal of energy on making the forms of the solid objects, such as people and tables. But when it comes to the space between the objects they tend to get lost in the emptiness.

Warping the negative space into a shape is the way to go.

rembrandtDP

This is a detail of the above painting’s negative space. Rembrandt has warped the negative space by a subtle tone shift. The triangular dark shape is more diffused, softer, as it goes back towards the sleeve. And it gets darker as it comes closer to the edge of the bust.

This change is indicated by the gray and black stripe.

negative space sketch

Here I isolated the negative space, and stylized it a little bit to show that it is not a flat space. Rather, the negative space curves to come forward, towards the bust, then it goes back towards the sleeve.

Vermeer, Girl with the Red Hat

This is my favorite Vermeer painting. The back of her head is turning away from us and the collar of the wrap is coming towards us.

redhatD

Here is a detail of the negative background space.

redhatDP

Notice how carefully the space changes: the tones get cooler and darker as they rotate back around the hair, and they get warmer and lighter as they rotate forward.

Monet, St Romain Soleil

Another favorite work of mine is this Monet.

monetDP

Here is a cast shadow inside the cavernous entrance to a doorway. It is a little tricky to discern Monet’s shifts of tone due to the ornateness of the building, and to Monet’s style of mark making.

But the tones do change and do warp the space. The front edge is flicked with darker tones, shifting the right edge towards us.

negative space demo

Here is a little demo of the idea.

Wray, Crystal Cove

This is a painting by one of my contemporaries, William Wray.

CrystalDP

If you think of the rocks as planets and the reflective sand and water as space, you can see how he warped the shape of the water–it comes zooming towards us on a dramatic diagonal.

Vermeer, Woman holding a Pitcher

Vermeer uses infinitesimal changes in tone to carve out space and light.

vermeerDP

Yet, he manages to warp the negative space of the back wall with very little changes of tone.

She has the slightest halo of light, which comes towards up to the edge of her headdress. The light then dims imperceptively, receding a few feet back towards the map.

negative space demo sketch

 

Here again I stylize the concept. The tones of the back wall change to bend the space forward.

Rembrandt, The Blinding of Samson

Rembrandt, The Blinding of Samson.

I wanted to use lots of examples for showing how negative space can be warped. It is really a very difficult problem. But once you have the idea of it, it makes it easier to isolate it when you visually study real life.

rembra34D

The sky in the tent opening changes dramatically in tone to shift the shape of the space.

rembra34DP

It follows the inner flap of the opening from some distance away and increases in light vibrancy as it wraps around and swings towards the soldier’s back.

Newberry, The Sculptor

In closing I would like to share one of my own.

This study of the problem gives a good idea how much I warped the space.

SculptorDP

I had to shift the space quite some distance from her arm and the back wall to come against the edge of the bust.

Again many artists would simply  think that the back is a flat space somewhere back there. But to be true to 3-dimensionality it is crucial to warp the negative space.

I hope you enjoyed seeing true lies in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry

Facing the Postmodern Art World

Facing the World, Self-Portrait, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 12″ Private collection

Poets and Artists published this on September 2nd, 2018.

Romanticist in a Postmodern Art World

In 1998, the year of the above self-portrait, I was living in my rented two-story Turkish house/studio in the Old Town of Rhodes, Greece, which overlooked the Mediterranean and the town’s minarets and domes. Two decades before, as a 20-year-old American, I had started my focused art journey in The Hague, Holland. Between Holland and Greece I moved every few years seeking inspiration from a different culture, a beautiful place, or from a big city’s energy. Everywhere I lived I produced my own pop-up shows, selling enough to keep painting. I tried both New York and Los Angeles a few times, knocking on their art scene doors, but my aesthetic was incompatible with contemporary art institutions. I was a romanticist aiming for my definitive works to have the feeling of a Puccini opera. Meanwhile postmodernists were rejecting art’s evolutionary developments and seriously trying to create from a preoperational cognitive state of mind like Louise Bourgeois. Others like Duchamp, Creed, and Christo sought to be radically original by using shocking, unlikely, and unrepeatable mediums for visual art. Continue reading “Facing the Postmodern Art World”

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.

Continue reading “Newberry at To Dentro by Thodoris Archontopoulos”

My Interview with VoyageLA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Newberry.

 

Please tell us about your art.

Painting and everything associated with it is my ecstasy. It has given me so much joy, and I have learned so much about myself and humanity while painting. Two years ago I had a brush with death, and I was a little shocked at how peaceful I felt. My art had everything to do with that, not having any regrets. But I am very happy now to think of all the projects I get to paint.

But the incredible feelings I get painting are not the only reason I paint. Art communicates. And I try to make the world a better place by sharing meaningful feelings or showing something special and new to see. There are so many artists that have given me new insights into my soul — I hope I can return that experience, one person at a time. Read more with pics here

Figure the Future, 66 min

Figure the Future
By Michael Newberry
Presented by The Atlas Society, 2008

 

Michael Newberry lives in Idyllwild, California with his dog Frida. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. He shows at the White Cloud Gallery in Washington D.C. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.

Art and Judgment

oil painting of a modern concept of a setting for a female nude sculpture.

Over three decades ago, in 1982, I booked a private telephone consultation with an Objectivist philosopher (associated now with the Ayn Rand Institute) on reading The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand’s classic non-fiction work on aesthetics.

At 24, I was both an artist and an Objectivist.  A fine art major; I had taken several art history classes including contemporary art theory. At the time, I had just completed the painting Promethia, and even though it was a thematic work, I didn’t understand how one objectively identifies a theme of an artwork. With that in mind, I was excited to be mentored by an Objectivist philosopher.

Screen Shot 2017 04 28 at 11.46.25 AM

In our consultation, he pointed to Willem Kalf’s still life painting in the classic art history book, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.

“How do I discover the theme?” I asked, genuinely.

“The theme of this painting is malevolent because of the dark background!” was the swift and vociferous response.

This was “obvious” — i.e. self-evident — he said.  No further reasoning or discussion was necessary.

I ended the session and never consulted him again.

Alas, I had yet to learn how themes work in painting. So I returned to what Ayn Rand herself had written.

Continue reading “Art and Judgment”