The Art of Life
If former UD professor Jim Newton is seen by some as an African-American artist, he’d prefer to emphasize American and art.
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In 1973 the family returned to Delaware, where Newton joined the UD faculty. He served as chair of the Black American Studies department for the next 20 years. He also published three books and wrote and published extensively on African-American artists and black culture in America.
But he never stopped doodling. While he was productive in spurts during his teaching career, he has become especially prolific since retiring in 2005. Last year marked his first solo show in Delaware, “James Newton: The Art of Delineation.” Julie McGee, the university’s curator of African American Art, felt compelled to mount the exhibition after she saw some of Newton’s works at the home of James Jones, UD’s director of African American Studies.
The “Couch Potato Drawings” were a focal point of the exhibition. The 100 images, done with black marker on 8½-by-11 cardboard, depict scenes from Newton’s youth in Bridgeton, including his paper route, fishing expeditions and neighborhood gatherings.
“The Couch Potato drawings were enormously popular, both for their narrative and structural content,” says McGee. “Artists who are interested in graphic novels and artist’s books have also been attracted to the work. The individual drawings speak to Newton’s artistic sensibilities and attraction to line as content.”
The two-month-long exhibition demonstrated the range of Newton’s oeuvre, and included the semi-comic “Rufus The All-American Dog” series, as well as serious work such as “Seascapes” and “They Came Before Columbus.”
“Seascapes” is especially illustrative of Newton’s work, according to Cara Zimmerman Campbell, a doctoral student in UD’s department of art history, who organized “The Art of Delineation.”
“One of the things I most love about Jim’s art is the fact that he really embraces narrative, and the narrative is very often personal,” she says. “And it comes out in many different forms—in political forms, in highly personal narratives such as the ‘Couch Potato’ series. It also comes out in the form of landscapes and areas and aesthetics that he grew up with, which he then translates to the actual work.
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