The vibrant and energizing work of Michael Newman stands out as the pinnacle of what is possible within the realm of the abstract and beyond.
There is a geometric cohesion that throws your preconceptions of shapes and angles in the washing machine and then hangs them out to dry while you think back on the whirlwind his art put your mind through.
Colour in the right place. It’s as simple as that, yet there is nothing simple about bringing out the emotion and imagination of strangers. Instead, it’s a gift that the few posses, those with the ability to transfer experience and life’s inspiration to something viewed and cherished.
To spend your life creating you must love the process and Newman most certainly relishes in the work.
Newman's art has a playful nature to it. One that is inviting, charismatic, complex but understandable.
2017's collection titled "Freedom" is the best introduction to his work as each piece looks as though you put creativity under a microscope and snapped a picture of imagination itself.
There is a fluid connection between the angles and shapes that can either bring on a subtle feeling of confused anxiety while trying to grip a complex piece like "Landscape of Life" or bring on an instant sense of relief like the shades of blue and creative use of orange and brown do in "Under Cover." "Perlescent Equals" is the most striking and impactful in the collection while "Well Read" keeps my attention captivated more than any other in "Freedom."
I recently had the chance to ask Michael Newman some questions about his art.
2019-2020’s Mixed Media series feels uplifting and inspirational yet the state of the world is full of anxiety and division. Did you filter out the negativity of current affairs when creating this collection?
I am an essentially easy going and happy person. I can usually manage to suppress any real anxieties I have and forget about them. Merely by working on my art I can figure out whatever is ailing me. I had never thought of my Mixed Media Series as uplifting or inspirational. It’s just what I have done. During this lockdown period, I have produced collages for the first time in my life! I just felt I didn’t want to paint but I did have a vision in my mind of coloured paper being torn and cut (there is a huge difference in quality/expression/meaning between the two types of edge.) I have made eleven so far. I don’t think that they express negative feelings either. Perhaps like Matisse my work is always positive. You would never guess that some of Matisse’s most joyous works were produced during the middle of a world war!
2019’s red line series has an almost futuristic feel to it, what type of emotion were you feeling the most when painting this series?
Mostly with the Red Line Series I was trying to combine curvilinear forms with straight ones over very free form and spontaneously painted grounds. One of my central concerns in all of my work is to combine and find a dynamic balance or harmony, between disparate elements. I am probably trying to prove that there can be harmony in chaos!
If you could only possess one of your pieces which one would it be?
I really don’t think I could decide on a single piece to keep. The last piece produced is always the most exciting for me ( at least for a few days) and then it’s on to the next one. However, having said that there is a painting that I made in 2012 which to me represented a major step forward in what I was trying to accomplish. Its title was “Montreal” and I count it as the first abstract painting in which I successfully used the visual language I had spent the previous decade trying to develop. It's on my website in the "2014 and before" page.
You take annual trips to NYC to visit the galleries. What has been your favourite exhibition to experience?
There have been so many superb NYC exhibitions the greatest is probably the Frank Stella but the best of all was in Washington DC where I went to see Richard Diebenkorn for three days. I spent all three days in there, just looking and looking, it was wonderful. I first saw his work in London back at the Tate in 1968 and then again at the Whitechapel in London too (don’t remember the year.)
You used your art qualifications from the University of London and Newcastle University to pursue a career in art education. Did the stability of your teaching career help your art or affect it in any way?
Yes of course I am sure it helped in many ways, but it was also very draining because teaching consumes a huge amount of creative energy and time and so in a way it probably also slowed my own personal development. However many of my ex-students still keep in touch and most have gone on to become fine artists, photographers and architects in their own right, and I am proud to have played a part in their lives and careers.
You say yourself that you explore surface, shape, line, colour, texture and tone. Which aspect is the most important to aid you in creating your art?
That’s a bit like asking which is your favourite child! They are all important. In general tonal value is the most important visual element in any painting, because without the proper tonal structure no painting will work. Line is of course a close second, but if a line is not tonally different to the surface it’s on, then you can't see it and so it doesn’t visually exist!
How important is travel to an artist?
Travel is great, I love it, but it is not really necessary.
Do all art teachers make good artists and all artists make good art teachers?
No not at all. Teaching is more about people and interactions than it is about the subject. I have had some great artists and craftsmen who have worked in my art departments who were hopeless as teachers. I also know some art teachers who have been good at teaching but their art, in my view, is dreadful!
When did you first realize you were an artist?
I decided to become an artist when I was 12 years old in an English lesson at my school. We were asked to pick out two postcard reproductions of an artist's work to write about. I saw a Cezanne and a Picasso for the first time in my life! After that, there was no stopping me, much to the chagrin of my poor worried parents! I was fast-tracked through school and my art education and attended life classes at our local art school from the age of 14. I did a foundation course at 18, obtained a 1st Class BA honours in FineArt painting and a Post Graduate Certificate in Art Education.
What was it about Canada that attracted you to it? Why did you choose Quebec to live?
My wife, who I met when I hired her to work in my art department, was originally born in Quebec, so when I was offered early retirement at the age of 52, we took it as an opportunity to begin a new life, back in her original country. We also had a young daughter of 10 at that time, and as her much elder brother and sister had succumbed to the evils of big city life in London at that time, we thought perhaps she would be better off being brought up in what we hoped would be a better environment.
You have a collection of digital work called your “Digital Gallery” that you create when travelling or when at an impasse painting. What type of significance do you think digital art will have moving further into the future?
I got heavily involved in computing and the visual arts in the late 70’s. In fact, I believe I was the first person to introduce computers in a school art departments within the United Kingdom. I was actually rewarded for that by being given a weekly day release from the teaching, for a period of two years, to research Computer Graphics at Middlesex University.I learnt programming and everything but in the end I just couldn’t escape my love and desire for manipulating real art materials. Although of course, I like to make use of computer graphics whenever the need arises.
When you find yourself in a rut you switch from painting on canvas to paper, do you have any other tricks to overcoming a creative block?
I do not really have any tricks. One just needs to show up and do some work. The work soon tells you where you are going wrong (or right) and then you are off!
If you couldn’t use the words vibrant, geometric or progressive, how would you describe your art and style in one word?
Dynamic balance or harmony is not one word but that is what I try to do. Surprise! Could be one word I suppose. Surprise that this form can be put with that and that they work together as one perhaps? Equilibrium may also be a good single word to use.
What is your process for selecting which piece will be for which series?
The series are just chronological events. I get interested in a particular idea where I think can I, or is it possible to make a painting by doing X. Then I proceed and the series evolves until it either peters out or I come up with another ‘what if’ idea.
Each series evolves into something new. Equally intuitive and original but a different view. A new adaptation of something great.
There is an excitement on the canvas of a finished Newman piece that is a complete refreshment as the imagery is a relief through and through.
Newman is accomplished, well versed and still going strong, ready to contribute to the world of art, not for fame or glory, but compulsion, chained to the easel by the need to create.