Charles Newman will have nearly new 40 oil paintings on display this month at F. A. N Gallery. Newman’s paintings are atmospheric – giving the viewer just enough information to connect to the painting and infer one’s own meaning into the interior spaces, still lives or landscape. The paintings’ sketchy and layered paint or scraped down textures allows the viewer to discover more about the painting with each investigation.
I have been corresponding with Charles while he prepared for Charles Newman: New Paintings, March 2 to 31, 2012.
What do you think about when you paint?
The thought of painting stays with me whether I am painting or not. When painting, I try to keep my thoughts simple. Degas said he didn’t think much when he’s painting and I can relate with that. Overall, things work out better for me in the end when I keep it simple.
[When painting] I break down what I see to the basic shapes and forms. I think about the properties of the paint itself. The way one color reacts next to another color. That’s what painting is about. I imagine having a mentor looking over my shoulder constantly reminding me about these things.
Sometimes I have an imaginary dialogue with students when I’m painting, explaining how to find color tonal relationships and good paint application. However, painting is spontaneous.
When doing plein air painting, it’s a race against time. I simplify things to get the overall moment and feeling from the motif. I ask myself what’s important to include and what’s not. I usually go wrong when I think too much and too objectively about things and try to include every window or every downspout in the painting. I’m making a painting, not doing carpentry. For me, that exhausts the painting, but it happens sometimes and I have to remind myself not to worry about stuff like that. Painting is design. I recognize certain passages within the motif and if I like the way a passage looks, I let it be. If I don’t like the way it looks, I’ll scrape it back and repaint it. I heard someone say a while ago to “think slow and paint fast”, and I always keep that in mind.
Charles works for City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and I wondered if his mural work influenced his personal painting work?
Not really, I feel they are two separate practices. Working on a mural is so different for me, in fabrication, paint application, subject, etc. But one thing that influences me when working on murals is the exploration of various neighborhoods, which have elements that I’m interested in when doing my own painting. Sometimes while painting a mural outside, I look across and see light hitting the side of a house a certain way, and I think to myself, I’d rather be painting.
Who are your influences, artistic or otherwise?
I have many influences. Many are painters from the 18th and 19th centuries, and early 20th century. My wife (who is very influential and supportive) recently got me a couple of art books. One is Edouard Vuillard, who is a great influence. I relate to his work because of the direction my own work has been going in. He did a lot of homely, domestic scenes with a spontaneity and honesty within them – something I try to do in my paintings. I also love his use of composition.
Corot has been an influence of mine for a while. I used to take a book of his work, In the Light of Italy, out of the library all the time when I was going to Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. I may have had a few late charges on it. This book focuses on a group of painters who painted the land and elements of Italy during the 18th and 19th century and the importance of the oil study. In my opinion, I see Corot as one of the fathers of en plein air painting.
Two other influences include Charles Hawthorne and Robert Henri. Not only am I influenced by their work, I am influenced by their writings on teaching. Charles Hawthorne has a book Hawthorne on Painting and Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit. I feel that these are the “helping friendly books” on painting. These are books I can always go back to during my practice. So when I feel my painting is getting stale, these writings help me refresh my painting.
Do you prefer to work in the studio or plein air?
I prefer working en plein air and on location because my paintings are representational. I strive to capture the actuality and simplicity of things. I consider my French easel being a portable version of my studio that I can take on the road. It has adjustable clips to prop my painting at a comfortable height, and it has a little table with a little drawer for me to store and use my supplies, which is great. At home, the detached garage that I converted into a studio is primarily used as a workshop to prepare surfaces, frames and rocking out to music. I rarely paint in the studio.
You talk about “filters” in your statement. What kind of filters do you mean?
When I mention filters in my artist’s statement I mean direct observation of the type of light, the filtering of light through atmosphere. If I’m painting on a humid day, I’ll treat my palette differently than if I was painting on a cold day.
On a cold day with no humidity, the light and shadow is crisp and on a humid day where there is more water in the air, the light feels softer and hazier, and I’ll mix accordingly.
The other thing I mean by “filter” is the ability to simplify through seeing. Squinting my eyes helps to eliminate details and distinguishes the tonal comparisons, so I have a better idea about shapes and edge quality. It also helps me distinguish the local colors and the true spots of color.
One example [of filtering] is the painting “Lake at Croft Farms”. I am facing slightly west, where the sun is receding. With the brightness of the sunlight radiating from the background of my subject matter, the light has diffused a cool bluish glow or filter within my field of view. This enables me to block in a very large mass and easily know my local color. Local color is the overall average of the color range within my field of view. Or the color that is mostly seen within the field of view. Squinting or blurring our eyes help to find the local color because everything gets simplified and we see spots of color. The local color is usually a mid tone color within the range.
Charles Newman’s work will be on display March 2 through March 31, 2012 at F. A. N. Gallery
Opening Reception is Friday, March 2, 2012, 5 to 9 PM.