Installation view of “Works by John Newman,” 2015. Image courtesy of FRED.GIAMPIETRO Gallery.
The artist once explained that his interest lies in creating “emotionally charged forms,” rather than realistic, narrative-driven work. While he’s better known for his sculptures, Newman also presents several drawings in the show, and his work in two dimensions is equally charged. Saturated with color, and rendered deftly with chalk, pencil, and marker, the works on paper demonstrate his firm understanding of the contours of three-dimensional forms, and his ability to translate them onto a two-dimensional surface. Although they are abstract, like his sculptures, certain works seem to have real-life references, like a pear in Drawing for a Sculpture (2010). The same is true for Untitled (2008), a more intricate and confounding composition of blue, orange, and yellow, in which a form resembling a mitochondria is wrapped in black thread and punctured by a safety pin.
A similarly surrealist merging of abstract shapes and recognizable objects can be found in Newman’s recent sculptures. In Lavender and Underneath The Big Umbrella (2014), a wooden pedestal supports a pale purple piece of material, a sail of sorts that billows outward in several directions and is pierced by an unidentifiable metal object. The hybrid form inspires curiosity: Is it a newfangled contraption, or an umbrella gone awry? Newman’s titles certainly help shape the way we view the work.
While some works are vaguely corporeal, Celadon Green with a Broad Brush (2014) is perhaps the most suggestive piece on display, thanks largely to its ponytail of bristly grey hair that spews out of a round wooden spout. Fabricated from galvanized wire, cast lucite, papier maché, resin, acrylic paint, and computer generated and milled spalted marble, the piece is a mélange of materials and ideas. The bristles could be a paintbrush, but the overall form has a nautical feel, balancing natural and manmade, like a shell or an object that would sit well on the deck of a boat. It looks like it might have a function, and yet it clearly doesn’t, which is all the more satisfying. Like many of his works, it morphs as the viewer circles it—becoming more animated, more anthropomorphic, and like the rest of Newman’s work, indisputably more baffling.
“Works by John Newman” is on view at FRED.GIAMPIETRO Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, Sep. 12–Oct 17, 2015.