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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Crawford especially notes Newton’s use of color. “Sometimes artists are influenced by other artists in their color selection,” he says. “For example, the primary triad of red, yellow, blue, or the secondary triad, green, orange and violet. That’s the sort of thing you would learn in art school. As artists become more individual, they find out individual color combinations. And sometimes they get inspired by cultures, like African cultures, that don’t use the primary and secondary triad the way we do in our schools. They set their own traditions. I think that is probably what Jim has done over the years.”
Though Newton doesn’t classify himself as an African-American artist, he doesn’t object when others do. He knows that the way he is perceived is based on the viewer, not his art. “When I was at Chapel Hill,” people would look at my work and, before they saw me, they would see one thing, and after they saw me they would say, ‘Oh, I can see the African influence there,’” he says.
“But when the dust is cleared and everything is boiled down, it all comes out to be American art. We have artists of different background and heritage who reflect that background. We want to be recognized on the basis of merit and art, not on the basis of our hue.”
Last summer Jim and LaWanda attended his 50th high school reunion in Bridgeton. Displayed prominently at the reunion was a pink and black banner depicting an eagle clutching a globe and the class motto, “Este Vos,” which, loosely translated, means “be yourself.”
Newton won a contest to create that banner when he was a sophomore in 1957, and he seems to be as proud of that as anything he’s done. Which is appropriate, because his hometown of 23,000, just 25 miles on the other side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, is never far away from him, literally or artistically. And it’s doubtful that any of his classmates have been more true to that motto than Jim Newton, doodler extraordinaire.