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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“An example of that would be ‘Seascapes,’ where he takes the vista of the New Jersey seashore and dunes and translates that into this contemporary work, which allows him to incorporate a narrative of his experience, but also a narrative of space and place.”
Newton himself says, “I’m eclectic. I do serious, then I go back and do something else.”
His ideas come from everywhere: his reading, television, his background in history, life around him and, of course, his childhood. When an idea strikes him, he tries to hang onto it until he can get to the studio in the basement of his spacious home in Corner Ketch “and start doodling.” Using acrylic colored pencils and crayons on illustration board, news board or newsprint, he works quickly on a table—never an easel. He doesn’t do preliminary sketches, and throws away nothing. If he makes a mistake, he works around it.
“The ideas just seem to flow,” he says. “Sometimes I might have a theme in mind, like when I did ‘They Came Before Columbus.’ These portray the pre-Columbian era, when ships were coming off the west coast of Africa and trade winds would sweep them into the coast of Florida, Mexico, etc. You would get Indian, African, almost Asiatic influences, and [as the series shows] these groups would all go exploring, but eventually everyone would think they were Hispanic.”
His influences are varied. They include African-American artists Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. Also, he says, “I like Picasso’s stuff, and N.C. Wyeth, the way he pushes paint around.”
Though he understands “computerization and all that,” he’s “kind of wedded to pencil and paper. I might be considered to be out of it when it comes to that. In fact, some people say I’m just a kid. It’s therapeutic, I know that.”
Steve Crawford, retired professor of art history at UD who went to the exhibition twice, sees a dramatic evolution in Newton’s art.
“When I arrived in Newark 40 years ago, his work was totally geometrically abstract,” Crawford says. “The color sense was always good, but it was much simpler than it is today. It was very hard-edged, large. The stuff he’s doing today is figurative and inspired by African and Latin American art, and it has much more of a message than his early work.”
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