Artist Michael Newberry knows exactly when his passion for art began. He was 11 years old, walking down Main Street in La Jolla with his grandmother. They passed by a bookstore. In the window was “The Complete Works of Rembrandt.” The cover sparked Newberry’s attention immediately.
“It was alive,” Newberry said. “The woman’s eyes had this empathetic yet sad look. I felt like time stood still. My grandmother saw how much it influenced me. For my 12th birthday, she got me the book. That kind of sent me on my way and I started to follow my passion.”
Using oil paint and pastels, Newberry is known for using life-sized canvases to create his figurative, neo-romanticism style, combining it with realism.
Newberry grew up in La Jolla in a family full of tennis players. Newberry’s older sister Janet Newberry was a professional tennis player in the 1970s. With such a heavy tennis influence, Newberry also became an avid tennis player himself, attending the University of Southern California (USC) on a tennis scholarship.
He chose to major in fine art, giving him the ability to keep up with learning about the arts while honing his tennis skills.
“I attended USC for three years from 1974 to 1977 before I moved to the Netherlands when I was 19,” Newberry said. “I wanted to learn about [Johannes] Vermeer and Rembrandt and thought Holland would be the perfect place.”
While living in the Netherlands, Newberry studied at the Free Academy Psychopolis with emphasis on life drawing for two years and then attended The Royal Academy of Art for a semester.
“When I was in my early 20s, I was living part-time in Holland and the other part in New York City doing solo shows because nobody wanted my work in their galleries,” Newberry said.
“They wanted grunge and angsty-type work,” Newberry explained. “That wasn’t me at all. So I created my shows, renting out spaces to do them in.”
During his 20s while learning and evolving his artistic abilities, Newberry taught tennis to help supplement his income.
“Coming from a tennis family, that was easy for me,” Newberry said. “I was able to make $65 an hour teaching tennis. I had students that were national champions and I taught Pete Sampras when he was about 12 years old.”
By the time Newberry hit the age of 30, he knew his tennis teaching was going to continue to grow and he had a decision to make. When he realized how much it would pull him away from his art, he chose to stop teaching tennis.
“I made the shift,” Newberry said. “I stopped teaching tennis. I dropped all of my students, moved to Greece for about four months and painted every day.”
It wasn’t long after that Newberry got a call from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles asking if he wanted to teach for them, and he happily accepted.
“There were about 25 students in my class,” Newberry explained. “They were all really great students. For four years I taught life drawing from the inside out.”
Once his teaching at Otis was done, Newberry made his way back to Greece, spending the next seven years painting, selling his work, creating exhibitions and teaching private workshops. Completely immersing himself in the culture, Newberry began integrating Greek Mythology into his work of modern-day people and places.
Newberry was living in Greece on Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks on the United States.
“All my friends were asking if I was going to become a Greek citizen,” Newberry said. He told them that he was moving back to New York City.
Newberry stayed in New York City until the mid-2000s before he moved to Santa Monica and opened up the Newberry Gallery. For two years, he showed his work and the work of artists like Robin Purcell and William Wray.
In 2014, Newberry moved to Idyllwild, stepping away from showing his work and focusing more on reimagining his painting style.
One technique Newberry uses is working from the background to the foreground in all of his pieces. It’s just one technique in the large toolbox Newberry uses.
“The talent for art, I have it,” he said. “I can feel it. It’s a little bit of magic that happens.”
Newberry offered a bit of advice for those artists who want to make their talent their career.
“Love your talent,” he said. “Embrace it. When you want to create something, know it’s going to be a thousand times more difficult than you think it will be. If you think of that, and still want it, then go for it.”