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Meet Michael Newberry

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Newberry.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
As a kid growing up in La Jolla, I was surrounded by some of the best tennis players in the world, including my sister Janet Newberry and my first tennis coach, the tall and elegant Lester Stoefen, a three-time Wimbledon doubles champion. Their confidence showed up in their body language and facial expressions, which in turn would later show up in my figurative paintings.

When I was 11 I was with my grandmother, Edna, browsing storefront windows, and I stopped in front of a bookstore window that had a huge book with a painted portrait of a woman on the cover. Time stopped. All I could do was look at the portrait. I remember following the light around her neck and ear. A few months later, on my twelfth birthday, my grandmother gave me that book, The Complete Works of Rembrandt.

At the same time that I was benefiting from these positive influences, I also became aware of evil. I shut myself in the bathroom pressing my hands against my head trying to quiet these exploding questions about evil. I couldn’t tell if it was outside or inside, and I spent the evening asking myself if it was me. Did I do something bad? Was I bad? Was it something else? It was a forced introduction to introspection. Thankfully, I concluded whatever it was wasn’t in me. Calmed, I took note to keep a sharper lookout on things around me.

Those three elements essentially set me on my path as an artist. And I have been blessed to paint almost every day since being a kid–about 50 years. I am also very much an artist theoretician. I think about philosophy, evolution (both personal and as a species), aesthetics, innovations in color theory, light theory, and psychological innovations and how figurative art can express these things through body language and paint. I have also redefined the 19th-century version of the sublime in art:

The experience of the sublime is to be looked for in art. Art integrates senses, emotions, and thought. The sublime in art elevates our sensory experience, heightens our emotion and can tap our emotional potential, and furthers our knowledge. The sublime in the art can also give us a moral, a stance towards living. At its best, the sublime in art inspires awe in our human potential and gives us a path to evolve as a whole being and as a species.

I also view art as the technology of soul integrating three things: visual science, emotional expression, and the thought behind the work. That sounds a little dry, but each of those things gives me goosebumps when I paint, and when I put them together I feel transported to another universe.

Please tell us about your art.
I create everything in the figurative/representational genre: landscapes, still lifes, portraits, interiors, and nudes with my main focus on thematic and narrative life-size figurative paintings. But I have got to love something about the light, color, and/or subject. My favorite mediums are pastel and oil.

I enjoy painting wet on wet and direct from life, for smaller works. Big works I plan out starting with either an idea or an emotion. The paintings are the answers to questions like can gays experience romantic love? What happens when I use red as a shadow? How much depth can I create on a 2-d surface?

Painting and everything associated with it is my ecstasy. It has given me so much joy, and I have learned so much about myself and humanity while painting. Two years ago I had a brush with death, and I was a little shocked at how peaceful I felt. My art had everything to do with that, not having any regrets. But I am very happy now to think of all the projects I get to paint.

But the incredible feelings I get painting are not the only reason I paint. Art communicates. And I try to make the world a better place by sharing meaningful feelings or showing something special and new to see. There are so many artists that have given me new insights into my soul — I hope I can return that experience, one person at a time.

My artwork is done with love, care, inquisitiveness, and a lot of kindness.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
Everything is fair game to artists, but there can be a fine line between propaganda and good art. Ideally, I think it best to prioritize universality over specifics of the day. It is kind of embarrassing to see how protest art if not well done becomes dated in a matter of weeks. But not every artist is aiming to live in time.

I follow the news and have a sense of what is going on with natural disasters, economics, and politics. I don’t explicitly cut it out from my art. Today I was talking to my best friend who is a philosopher about a modern take on Atlas holding up the world. The idea about shifting the focus away from the crushing weight of the world to an enjoyment of tackling world issues.

I came up with the idea of a hand balancing the earth on the tip of a finger, like a basketball player. Making the hand black skinned would be even better, thinking of Africa as the origin of humankind. That could be taken to address contemporary issues of race and power, but I like the universal element of taking on guardianship of the world with prowess, efficacy, and ease.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
The White Cloud Gallery in Washington, D.C. has a few of my paintings in its inventory, and some pastel landscapes are currently on show in a group exhibition, Land Escape. I am archiving my work on Instagram. And I have a good range of inventory in my Idyllwild studio, where guests are welcome to visit.

When I was in the hospital two years ago some friends came with their adolescent niece and nephew. They were such thoughtful and observant kids. After I was discharged, I wanted to do something nice for their parents. I invited the kids to my studio and scattered lots of little oil sketches everywhere. I told them whenever you are in an artist’s studio always tell the artist which artworks you like!

That was my trick to find out their first choices. A week later and two “likes” framed I gave those paintings to the kids. Letting artists know what you like goes a long way towards giving them emotional visibility. Collecting is also good. I try my best to help ownership and leasing happen.

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