Michael Newberry - New Romanticist
Michael in his Los Angeles studio 2012
are two things that name art for me: creating from
my soul wonderful states of being - either that I
have experienced or would like to. And gaining the mysterious knowledge of how
masses of light, forms, space, and color converge.
Places, Points, and Works
Michael currently lives and works from his studio
in the Los Angeles Arts District.
Newberry's Arts District Studio in Los Angeles,
La Jolla was
a sleepy, wealthy, easy going beach town when I was born
there. Growing up as a beach urchin with my
brothers and sisters, I would regularly ditch school, body
surf, and play tennis ... and make art.
Warwick's Book Store, 1960's, La Jolla, California.
As an 11
year old I stood with my grandmother in
front of Warwick's bookstore, pictured above,
a portrait of a
woman on the cover of
a huge book. Her eyes were expressive with deep
feeling; and I remember my eye following the curves
of her mouth, chin, and neck, gently moving around
her earlobes, and stopping at the glints of light of
her earrings. Time stopped. After a
lapse of a quarter of an hour or so, I looked over at my grandmother
and she gave me an odd expression - it seemed to say
"It's okay, you keep looking." I continued to
observe the painting.
later on my 12th birthday, my grandmother gave me a
present of that book, The
Complete Works of Rembrandt.
Stoffels, 1645, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches.
This painting was the first artwork that spoke to
me, as an 11 year old.
evenings I religiously studied Rembrandt's paintings,
absorbing their light, shadow, feeling, and human depth.
This ongoing experience sparked my visual creation,
and I have painted or drawn almost every day since
There is one
aspect of my upbringing that, though not an art
thing, had an important influence. The world's greatest tennis players passed
through the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. As a 10
year I asked my tennis hero Rod Laver to hit with me, and he did.
And a few
years later, I witnessed the
birth of woman's professional tennis from the
perspective of my sister Janet, who turned pro on
her eighteenth birthday.
I learned from tennis were never to whine, always
improve your weaknesses, be your best,
never take shit from anybody, know your abilities,
call it like it is, never give up, and always honor
At 17 I had my first art show in a local bank, started
selling, and had my first commissioned painting. There was a problem with
the commission - the
collectors' impressions of the persons in the
portraits were not mine. From that experience,
I decided to
paint only from my soul, and I never did another commission.
There was another subtle and
non-art influence from growing up as a kid in La
Jolla. Some very successful and international people
lived there - there were a couple of women, Michele
Shied and Betty Trigg, that had been international
print models. Michele was French and had a style
- she had beautiful paintings in her home. Betty
made it in New York, and had been one of the highest
paid models in United States. Both these woman had
respect for my art instincts and somehow, which I
can't define, they let me know they understood me.
Education Los Angeles and Holland
Edgar Ewing, an
early American modernist, was my art
teacher and mentor at U.S.C..
He taught me
spatial relationships, and the dynamic play between
objects, and gave me just the right amount
knowledge to further my progress. Unfortunately, at
the University there was no formal figure drawing or technical
training. The other teachers focused
on conceptual art, installation art, and repetitive
mark making, which gave me a thorough grounding in
postmodern art. Figurative art and realism
would come later, being hard won developments that I would
have to learn on my own.
Edgar Ewing, (1913 -
2006), American Engine, oil on canvas, 40 x 45
and summer breaks I visited museums
such as: The Norton Simon (Van Gogh), LACMA
(Rodin sculptures), Guggenheim (Picasso), Ringling
Museum of Art (Monet), The Rijksmuseum (Rembrandt),
Kroller Muller (Van Gogh), The Louvre. And I visited historic and archeological
sites in England, Greece, Holland, and France.
period, I read Dostoevsky, Nabokov,
Plato, and Mary Renault. And I read about the Minoan
discoveries of Sir Arthur Evans and Heinrich
In the early
70's the art climate of Los Angeles was about installations, minimalism, pop,
abstract painting, and concept art. These fields had nothing to offer me in terms of the kind of
depth, passion, authenticity, and mastery which I
was looking for in painting. To grow and to try new things I moved to Holland
in hopes of finding a mentor and supportive art community.
(19 years old), 1975, oil on linen, 14 x 10
Collection of the artist.
Holland was fun.
I lived in rooms, and ended up in a Scheveningen
fisherman's house where tram #11 meets the
North Sea. In The Hague I spent two intense years at
the Free Academy Psychopolis, drawing from live
model 9 hours a day 6 days a week,
resulting in thousands of figure drawings in Conte,
pastel, and ink. There was no instruction there,
just the opportunity to observe/draw live models.
Unfortunately an art mentor
never came about. But I did have very supportive
friends: in Holland Lynia Zaaijer, Rob Mechielsen,
the Meinardis, Martin Koek, Ton Simons, Marian
Laudin. Though not in Holland my sister Janny was
always a major supporter.
Girl Reclining, 1979,
mixed media, 18 x 24 inches.
Tenney Family collection.
Outside of studying
50 hours a week
in my spare time
I painted life size
nudes in oil. My style then was gestural, energetic,
transparent, colorful, and bold. This is where I met
my lifelong friend
Robert Mechielsen, an innovative architectural
Newberry, Rob II, 1978,
oil on canvas primed with rabbit's skin glue, 36 x
Geir Friis collection, Nesconset, New York.
Newberry, Jette, 1977,
oil on canvas primed with rabbit's skin glue, 69 x
Grant Barnes collection, Los Angeles, California.
This is also
the time I researched, from scant information, how
to prime linen canvases with dried rabbits' skin
double boiled, making a disgusting smelling warm gel
which I applied to the canvas. When dried, it
served as a protective barrier between the linen and
oil medium, preventing the linen from rotting. In
the painting above, Jette, notice the beige
section of color on her calf and part of her elbow,
that is naked canvas which I liked to incorporate.
At this time
I read Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Her intensity, seriousness,
respect for creators matched how I felt about my art
Once or twice a
year for several years I shifted
between New York and The Hague. I would roll up my
unfinished canvases and take them with me. Robert
Mechielsen and Lynia Zaaijer posed for a few of my
paintings, along with Jette
van der Meij, who went on to become a Dutch
The late 70's period was horrible for figurative
artists. Figurative art wasn't to be found in
contemporary galleries or museums. Once a week some
art type would tell me "figurative art is dead." But
figurative art is about people, how could such a
powerful expression be dead? And I saw unlimited
possibilities of emotional expressions, poses, new
ways to light them. Indeed I felt that my figurative
art would be uniquely mine, like a thumbprint.
The contemporary art scene was made up of a bunch of
incompetents who can't paint or draw well enough to
free their vision, blindingly grasping at gimmicks,
thinking it is cleverer to appropriate, shock, and
dump. With a thoroughly disgusted view of the
contemporary art scene I decided to set my own
standard for making real my potential.
Realism - Between New York and Holland, 1979-84
Here am I next to an earlier stage of The Sculptor,
around 1979-80 in Holland.
challenge of realism was appealing to me, and for
the next few years I honed my skills, developing several
life sized figurative paintings. Fantasy and
imagination are essential tools for expressive art, but realism
holds a special place - it is a life line. Without
the connection to perceptions of real life, my imagination would fly away,
spiral out of control, and out of sanity, and I might
never come back. So I embraced the element of
realism and incorporated with the rest of my
Wearing a Hat,
1981, oil on linen, 48 x 36 inches.
Woman's Head (Lynia Zaaijer), 1979,
life size, bronze.
Lynia Zaaijer collection. The Hague, Holland
I tried my
hand at sculpture, making a portrait of my friend
Lynia Zaaijer. This is only my second sculpture, the
tiny clay Venus I did as an 11 year old. A difficult problem
was how to end the bust at the
shoulder/neck line; I solved this by cutting off
where a necklace might fall.
In New York
I lived in a rotted building in the lower
eastside, and continued figure drawing studies in a
nearby. In my live/work place there was virtually no
furniture but one stool and
a mattress on wood
crates. There I met my great
friend and model, Jennifer Trainer Thompson. She
went on to be a very successful writer and
fundraiser for MASS MoCA.
New York has
great museums which I regularly visited: The Frick,
Whitney, MOMA, and the Met. Also, I spent some time visiting New York's
contemporary art galleries, but the installation works,
negativity, and gross view of life, upset me so
intensely that afterwards I couldn't paint for days,
and couldn't shower long enough to get the feeling
of shit off of me.
To keep my spirit up I
cooked nice things, read lots of classic literature,
and discovered Puccini. As a teenager I liked Elton
John, but always had this uninformed feeling that he hadn't quite resolved the
works. They were missing something - actually they
were missing the things I was working hard to
discover in visual art - the synergy of fundamental
tools and clear expression of epic themes. One night
in '82 the Met broadcasted a live a performance and
Leontyne Price and Marilyn Horne. The
and Flower Duet from
by Puccini blew my soul away. That art rocked
my world and gave me the feeling, intelligence,
beauty, and color I was looking for in my work.
time I took a reality check. Slumming it was a long
way from La Jollan life - how good of a
painter was I? Was this sad lifestyle worth it? Did
I have enough talent to wow myself like how I felt
about my heroes Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, and
Michelangelo? At this point I wasn't there. I studied
the time lines of my favorite great artists.
With two or three exceptions in which the artists'
education and times were in sync, they didn't dial
in until their late 20's. After this research I gave
myself till I was 28 or 30 to make a work that would
totally blow me away. Until then I would keep pushing
a big influence in my early work. In Holland I lived close by
the Maurits House, where
The Girl with Pearl
Earring is. Time
to time I would hop on a tram, and drop in to
the museum to see how Vermeer did it. Notice my nod
to Vermeer in the painting of Jette below, a book of
his works is on the table.
Woman in Blue,
oil on linen, 55 x 36 inches.
observations are difficult enough, but when you add
concepts, emotional themes, or a story, they open up
intensely difficult tasks to paint. Every mark,
every gesture, every nuance either enhances the
theme, or detracts from it. Narrative paintings answer
questions like: Why are they in that pose? Why that
setting? What is this story about? Is there a moral?
In 1982, at
25 years old, I completed
Promethia, which combined
the backgrounds of a Palm Springs desert, La
Jolla's UCSD's Library, and my painterly invention
of the sculpture. Promethia shows my vision
for the synergy of figurative art, modern
architecture, and a clean environment.
1982, oil on linen, 78 x 58 inches.
Individuals Revolution, 1982-3, studies for
a large painting.
In 1982 I was planning an epic
painting, 9x14', with lots of life-sized people in
it. The title and theme was The Individuals'
Revolution. I love the theme of individual rights.
And it seems to me that the biggest threat to
individuals are unlimited governments.
Revolution of the Individual!!! The biggest group of
I didn't follow through with the
project, not for artistic reasons, rather, I knew it
would take at least 3 years of working around the
clock. I didn't know of anyone or any
organization that may want to buy it, for sure not
the NEA, so I
reluctantly let it go.
for the Individuals' Revolution.
You can view the
several studies for this project
Solo Show in New York
The NoHo Show in Manhattan,
just north of SoHo was in August '83.
It was the culmination of years of work. 12 months
of planning for the opening - the invites, press
releases, getting help for that stuff, and getting
the works ready. There were about 12 life sized
paintings and 22 drawings and mixed media. Some of the works above were in the
show and it included these:
Newberry, Manhattan at Night, 1983, oil on Belgium
linen, 30 x 50 inches. Collection Geir Friis
Newberry, Young Man in Green, 1982, oil on Belgium
linen, 30 x 40 inches. Collection Kip Durney
Friends came from everywhere
for the opening: the west coast, Europe, Florida.
Flowers showed up. Jennifer Jordan blew in from
Boston like she owned the place. Geir and Hanna from
Norway, Lynia and Rob from Holland. Diane Odom,
Peter Duble, Jennifer Trainer - friends which posed
for me and helped with the organization of the show.
Before the opening I was laid
out comatose on the cold cement bathroom floor -
scared stiff, totally drained, felt like my soul was
naked, vulnerable, and exposed. The conflicted
feelings all rushed together: the hours of struggle
at 2 in the morning; the moments of magic when marks
of color fit; the intense feeling of caring for the
works. Soon I would be sharing my art with my
friends I loved ... and to strangers.
When the first people began
to arrive the fear dissipated, and waves of people,
colors, smells, eye brightness swirled around me.
People confirmed that they were buying things, and
then everything wound down. Jennifer Trainer had
said her goodbyes but then came back to the gallery
and bought Woman in Blue, though she would
have to make sacrifices for it.
Though it is rather
capitalistic but when a friend buys an artwork, the
feeling goes way past the financial exchange ...
it's that a part of you is going to be living with
them; in their home, by their desk, in their
bedroom. I get goosebumps when I know a work of mine
is cared for by another.
I sold about 1/4 of
the works, which enabled me to live, in poverty, for
about 9 months, and it enabled me to paint my next
major work, Pursuit.
End of Part I
Places, Points, and Works, Part II
Slums and Grand
Pursuit took me 16 hours a day, every day for 6
months. This painting was the integration of
everything I knew about color theory, light and
shadow, anatomy, depth, gesture. It also expresses
my belief that great visions are challenges that demand the very best of you, yet
they don't guarantee success. The tension creating this
was almost unbearable, and at the same time every
moment of those 6 months felt alive.
Newberry, Pursuit, 1984,
oil on linen, 84 x 60 inches.
Private Collection of Geir
intensity was kind of frightening; I had a fear that I
might be going crazy. One night I had worked until 3
am, and awoke at 5 am, bright eyed, and decided to
catch the Staten Island Ferry to take breakfast in
Manhattan. On the ride, the colors of sunrise were
spread out over the water towards the Statue of
Liberty. There were subtle shifts of the
hues and tones, and they diminished and
intensified depending on were the objects where in
space. At that moment I understood that as long as I was
connected to reality through observing it, art
wasn't taking me away from reality, or making me
crazy, I was simply going further and further into
how vision works. With that foundation there was no
fear of going crazy, I was
free to drive as far as my art vision could take me.
months or years on one painting is not very
practical from a business or pragmatic point of view,
but it is from a point of view of loving art. I
can no more force a painting to be finished than I
can force a lover.
In a healthy world we all will pursue the
things we love, and have faith that with fortitude and vision we can make
creativity the norm.
The section of
Staten Island near the ferry dock was run
down, with cheap housing and dusty convenience stores.
The local laundry mat was across the street from
some government housing projects and had "out of
service" scratched out by a knife on the enamel of the washer
and dryer lids.
Once a group of
six or so young black guys were gathered on a side
walk in front of me as I was walking home with my
finished laundry. It occurred to me to cross the
street to avoid them, but I thought better of it,
and continued walking towards them. There was a
momentary tension as they stood without moving,
blocking the sidewalk. I walked up to them and said
"pardon" and a couple of them moved aside and let me
pass. For the remainder of that walk I thought about
how it was my choice to live in that miserable
place; it was cheap, close to Manhattan, and
afforded me time to paint full-time. But for those
guys, it was what they knew, and they probably also
knew that I and the other artists, actors, dancers
were just passing through.
Pursuit in Staten Island I approached art magazines and Manhattan galleries.
American Artist magazine then had a section on up and
coming artists, and they rejected to do a feature on
me because to quote the editor I was "white, male, and living in New
York City." Alan Frumkin (Frumkin Gallery) thought
my paintings were too "lyrical." Sherry French spent
10 minutes with her nose up against the surface of
Pursuit; I realized that she wasn't looking
but stalling because she didn't know what to say me.
An art dealer asked me to come in for an appointment
after seeing an art invitation of mine. She gave my
athletic frame a look over, and said I didn't look
like an artist. Another art dealer said about
Pursuit that "New York is not ready for this
kind of art."
I didn't know nor really care how to present myself, but I thought it would be
obvious to anyone, and especially art experts, that
all my time and energy went into my complex and
audacious works. There is very little you can do
when all the doors you try don't open. Not seeing a
future in New York, I rented a big car, rolled up
all my works and drove home to La Jolla and started
looking for a job.
Tennis was my
best bet for well paid part-time work and I soon got
a job teaching it at the Jack Kramer Club in Palos
Verdes. One of the highlights there is that I gave
about 30 playing lessons to a young Pete Sampras,
never losing. I also coached Nicole London to a 12
and under national title, got Bill Berhens off to a
scholarship, and helped 17 year old
Melissa Gurney break into the WTA's top 20. Far from feeling relief
with this kind of quality job, I was fearful the
successes at the Kramer Club would wipe out my life
as an artist.
In-between lessons and every
free moment I had I spent working on the life sized
portrait of Puccini and studies for
1986, oil on linen, 58 x 70 inches
One's potential is a funny
thing and I think everyone kind of knows what they
can and can't do. I had this vision to create an
epic painting combining happiness, love, radiance,
joyful colors, and wild composition. I had no idea
it would take 3 years when I started with the first
studies. Denouement is really a freak
painting - it's not from the past and definitely not
of the contemporary postmodern culture. It's
something futuristic, and still is after almost 30
1987, oil on linen, 54 x 78 inches.
To complete it I
had to develop a radically new color theory. You can
see and read a presentation of the theory
here. It's not
just for this painting but there are complex
feelings of a tingling spine, bursting of energy
from my heart and head, and a weightlessness - these
are what I feel when a painting works right. I felt
that a lot while painting Denouement and I
feel it every time I see the painting. It is why I
love to paint.
Denouement I took a soulful 3 month journey to
Greece drawing pastels everyday and thinking a lot
about life, art, and what my future might hold.
To be continued ...