Edward M Gomez
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27 April 2014

Now tracking: Michael Newman’s long journey to the heart of gestural abstract art-making

 
Above: Nuances (2014), pencil on Magnani paper; two sheets, each sheet 21.125 inches high x 23.75 inches wide.  

SEATTLE — Impressionist and post-impressionist painters’ interest in Japanese woodblock prints; modern architects, designers, poets and musicians’ assimilation of the philosophical principles of Zen Buddhist austerity; abstract painters’ emulation of East Asian calligraphy — Western modernists have long looked to the East for aesthetic inspiration and found ways to incorporate their findings into their own creations.

The Seattle-based American painter Michael Newman is one of the few artists whose work I’ve had opportunities to examine over time and in depth who has developed a seamless, unaffected blending of Eastern and modern Western painting techniques, specifically those very animated ways of handling a brush that are rooted in calligraphic gestures but are packed with their own uncodifiable, open-ended expressive power.

Like some other abstractionists who are also proficient draftsmen, over time Newman has progressivley reduced his representation of subject matter in/from the perceived “real world.” He has

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

arrived at a place in his art-making at which all of what he knows about producing meaningful marks can be conveyed by and embodied in the squiggles, dashes, curlicues, sputtering dots and wisps of color that combine to make up his sometimes dense, sometimes spare compositions.

Freshly out of the U.S. Navy, where he had served in the Pacific, in the 1960s Newman studied at the legendary, now-closed Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design in San Francisco. Schaeffer (1886-1988) was a visionary educator and aesthete who developed a theory of “prismatic color.” Through his teaching, he aspired to unite technology, science and lifestyle in harmony with nature. Newman lived nearly three decades in Japan and Taiwan, and traveled widely in eastern and southeastern Asia. His experiences and study in those parts of the world and with artists whom he befriended there have deeply informed his art-making. His most recent works are some of his most reductivist — and energized — ever. Of them, he says, “This work seems to reflect what I’ve always done since the beginning of my career, using the basic elements of the medium as a conveyance — putting the fundamentals of life together in them in the simplest rhythmic expressions. In effect, this was the motivation I went to Asia for back in the ’70s.”

Right now I’m working on an essay about Newman’s career and the development of his techniques and ideas. Later, on this website, I’ll announce when and where that essay will be available in print and/or electronic form.

Posted by E.M.G.

Black-and-white work, top, left: Opulent Conversation (2014), pencil on Magnani paper, 21.125 x 23.75 inches. Above, left: The Prophet (2013), watercolor and pencil on Fabriano paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Below, left to right: Abode by the River (2013), watercolor and pencil on Fabriano paper, 8.5 x 11 inches; Tosca (2007), bolted/galvanized sheet metal, approximately 9.5 x 10 x 5 inches; The Card Party (2012), pencil on paper, 11 inches x 8.5 inches.