There has been one constant in Michael Newberry’s peripatetic life — painting. He mounted his first exhibition when he was 18 and has since exhibited internationally — in Greece, Belgium, Italy and Holland, and throughout the U.S. He has taught at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and writes about art in a way that non-aficionados can easily understand and appreciate.
Newberry lived and painted for eight years on the Greek Island of Rhodes and now, by chance and Craig’s List, lives and paints in the sky island of Idyllwild.
As a student, Newberry left the University of Southern California when he was 20 to study at the Free Academy Psychopolis and the Royal Academy in Holland because of the availability of live models. “I was a fine-arts major at USC but they only offered two weeks of figure drawing. In Holland they had great studios, great natural light and live figures. It was mostly figure drawing of live models, nine hours a day, six days a week,” said Newberry. “With that kind of intensity every week you make great leaps. I’ve painted since I was 17 and known that was what I wanted to do.”
There is another constant throughout Newberry’s life as a painter. He finds the light. Light is a character, an actor and a narrator in his pieces. He began and continues in a classical tradition of painting figures — people with stories, imbued with an inherent romanticism. And his paintings assure the viewer that, at least within Newberry’s world, there is no imminent apocalypse. He said he paints the kinds of themes with which he would want to spend significant amounts of time, not subjects that are dark and angry. “Let’s say I’m feeling angry and frustrated,” he explained. “Maybe I feel I want to do a satire of stupid people. I’ll do sketches and then I’ll realize, ‘Is that where I want to go, in that state of being? Do I want to spend my time with those people?’”
To illustrate his point, he referred to the last words of Steve Jobs, remembered by Job’s sister Monica Simpson in her eulogy of her brother — “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.” It is that “zone” within which he has chosen to live and paint. “I’ve known from day one that I wanted to spend my life in ‘the zone,’” said Newberry. “The things I try are exciting and that puts me in the zone. I focus on an idea that’s meaningful to me.”
He remembered that when he was young, just starting out as an artist, he questioned his calling. “My biggest conflict with art then was that I did not understand its value to humanity,” he said. “I knew I enjoyed drawing and painting but I wondered, ‘What was the point?’”
Asked now to explain why he paints, Newberry said, “My goal in life has been to show what I think is meaningful and make a contribution.”
Newberry said he is the kind of person who takes it slow. “I wanted to have a profession that allowed me to contemplate,” he said. He changed locations, living in New York City after Holland. “You go [to New York] with the idea you’ll break through,” he said. He went back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, painting and exhibiting. “Then, after selling a number of paintings that gave me the opportunity to live anywhere, I went to Greece. I had been there previously, painting in pastels for three months. This time I moved to Rhodes and remained for eight years.” Newberry said Rhodes gave him the time for contemplation he had sought and, with the pace of life, he was definitely able to take it slow. “In small places, people get to know you,” he said.
After Rhodes, he moved to the downtown Los Angeles arts district. “I had a high ceiling, 2,000-square-foot live-work space. But it was noisy and they wanted to raise my rent. I didn’t want to sacrifice my art just to make my rent.”
Newberry went online, typed in “cabin” on Craig’s List and found his present studio in Idyllwild. He has been here for more than two years and is only now reaching out to the larger community. “I like living alone too much,” he confided. “Idyllwild reminds me of Rhodes; the quiet, the pace of life. But what I find here is how amazing are the depths of thinking and feeling of the people I am meeting.
“I’ve always been interested in the sublime in art, what elevates the human spirit — something that states, ‘Isn’t it magnificent that I can be here, feeling love, connection and celebrating existence?’”
His paintings offer a definitive answer and the answer is a resounding “yes.” “I believe that art exists to evolve our minds, to extend our awareness and to expand our hearts,” said Newberry.
For more about Michael Newberry, to view his paintings and to read his archived articles about art, visit www.michaelnewberry.com. His gallery in Fern Valley is open to the public