Sean Newport’s Kaleidoscopic Paintings Shine a Light on the Space Between Reality and Illusion

Aug 19, 2016 10:06PM

If you’re viewing Sean Newport’s work online, it’s easy to get the wrong idea. You might mistake his colorful, geometric designs for digital art or graphic design. Actually, they’re three-dimensional wooden sculptures.

The fault isn’t in your perception. The San Francisco–based artist expects you to get it wrong. Indeed, the gap between real and imagined, between perception and reality, is central to his practice. Each piece is a form of escape, Newport has said, a portal into another reality. It’s fitting, then, that his new exhibition, “Vacation Vibration,” takes place not in the Bay Area, but in Los Angeles, a city that specializes in fantasy and illusion.

Newport quite literally crafts his work. Before becoming a visual artist, he trained as a carpenter, and that technical background is immediately evident in his work. He starts with a measure of wood, which he cuts into shapes and paints before arranging the pieces into complex, geometric patterns.

The psychedelic results are something like peering through a kaleidoscope. You see the wall-mounted sculptures differently as you move around them and view them from different angles—something the artist encourages his audience to do, but something you can’t do when viewing the work on a screen.

The colors seem to change; new patterns emerge. The light—directional, UV-sensitive, controlled by the artist—shines in surprising ways as it hits the wooden ridges and valleys. These visual experiments test the eye and the brain, challenging you to consider how a static object can seem so alive.

Newport hails from LA but lives and works in San Francisco, while Cordesa Fine Art, with its original location in San Francisco, now has a second outpost, this one in LA’s burgeoning arts district. “Vacation Vibration” is the inaugural exhibition at their new LA space, making the show something of an artistic exchange between the two cities. As the gallery travels south down the California coast, Newport’s lively work couldn’t offer a better welcome.

—Bridget Gleeson

Sean Newport: Vacation Vibration” is on view at Cordesa Fine Art, Los Angeles, Jul. 16–Aug. 27, 2016.

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