Art within art. Painting a person with tattoos is like painting a painting within a painting. Mind-bending. The tricky part for the painter is to be not confused by the tones and hues of the tattoos and bring out the forms and light of anatomy.
Tattoo Series, 2017, oil on canvas, each 24×20″
Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 5/17/2020
The day before yesterday we were scheduled for an electricity outage 9am-4pm. I got up early to cut out a wood palette fit to measure my French easel, grabbed Frida, and went for a drive on the justly named Palms to Pines Hwy. The cows reminded me of how rural the area is. About 30 minutes later I was in the 100 degree desert, making a loop I found a spot between Salton Sea and Borrego Springs to paint. High noon and not a shadow to be had. My students will tell you I veto painting things with no shadows, broke my rules, and decided to paint with the focus on the soft dusty arid colors. I painted for about 40 minutes, really it was too hot, Frida couldn’t wait to get back in the car. The rest of the drive ascending from valley to valley was gorgeous and I was grateful to arrive home to the mile high coolness of Idyllwild.
Archaeologist Thodoris Archontopoulos takes us on a journey through Newberry’s works in progress. Originally published in the Greek newspaper the Rodiaki, 1996.
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
Atmosphere Graphite 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.
oil on linen, 82 x 66 inches, studio inventory.
Laying down in a closed, dark, tiled space, too young to understand, too inexperienced to sort through feelings, and in too much pain to be aware of the world around him, the ten year old had no choice but to examine everything–or face oblivion. Deep inside him surfaced a feeling of goodness. That feeling would ultimately anchor him to life and earth.
Counterpose: Chaos, the Bringer of Equilibrium, oil on linen, 36 x 42 inches, studio inventory
Chaos was depressed. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t manage to cope with all of the contradictory forces within her: darkness, burning lights, forms, demons, angels, and bright colors. No single element was the answer to the meaning of existence. It was as if a hundred opinionated voices were speaking all at once, forcefully demanding their spot at the top of the heap. There was nothing tangible to fight, and there was no place to flee. She said: “What an unbearable life.”
There was one tiny, microscopic Sublime atom in the chaotic flux that wasn’t fighting, yelling, or competing. It softly mused: “This is all so silly because there is beauty in everything and everything has its nature. I know there is sense to all of this, we only need to discover the key.”
“The Collector”, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 inches, private collection
“Life is made up of compromises,” said his teacher. “You will learn that the world doesn’t work that way,” said his other teacher. “Yes, I know I said ‘always be aggressive when you are ahead,’ but make this an exception and be safe,” said his desperate coach. Only once did he discount his inner voice and follow advice that didn’t compute; it ended in a colossal failure. The problem wasn’t so much that their advice was bad, but it didn’t resonate with him.
oil on linen, 60 x 70 inches, private collection.
As a pre-teen, I often felt an unbearable delight in things: There was a local sub shop run by a Sicilian man named Tony. Tony used imported Italian ingredients to make his submarine sandwiches, and the combination of rich flavors created an explosion in my mouth and spirit. It was the same with da Vinci drawings. Da Vinci drawings swept me through currents of light and air giving me a delicious feeling for his beautiful people. I felt like I was born Italian in a past life, but was cursed to be brought up in the artificially bright culture of mid-20th century America, with its Doris Day look-alikes, CIA-sponsored Rothko paintings, Wishbone dressing, and psychologically immature, posturing, drunken men. Though my normal character loves wondrous things, I also felt sadness and shyness. Shyness about the things that rocked my world, and sadness for seeing so much superficiality in my town.
Venus 3: Reaching For the High Note, oil on linen, 46 x 26 inches. Studio inventory.
Venus was the most beautiful baby born, but she was cursed in two ways: First, no one knew who her father was, her mother deftly convincing the village that the father was Zeus. The second curse was that she was indeed beautiful. She drew looks of appraisal and sometimes envy from everyone she passed. But she felt tremendous shame because she thought they were staring at her because of her illegitimacy.
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!