September 26, 2018

Straight lines and solid colors: the genius behind Newman

Solid lines, and colors all imperceptibly unconquerable by the full nature of the eyes, yet even more still unconquerable by the nature of our souls. Newman’s work is imperceptible, not because of its existential qualities, rather because of his simple genius. The lines of his pieces are derisions of art. It is never completely clear what he is suggesting, but it is obvious that it cannot be more than just a few lines against solid backgrounds. Perhaps, just a bit more than that.

Some will certainly go as far as to suggest that Newman’s work is not really art as anyone could put a line through a solid color background, which is very much true, but in a way he is the first one to have done it this way, and if one does it now, they would be copying Newman. The fact is that he was the first one to do it in this particular style, which does seem a bit impressive. Whatever the case may be, this is one artist whose ideas are more interesting, than the actual aesthetics of his pieces.

It is the sincere minimalism that first strikes the eyes of any viewer, and makes one ponder on why something of such candor could even be exhibited, yet the idea here is that of locality, the presence of art and the act of the viewer staring at it with all of his/her perceptible emotions. The act of staring at something indefinitely or definitely, makes the viewer a part of the visual experience. 

Although I rarely dabble in abstract expressionism, there is something very attractive to Newman’s simple techniques. They did not become renowned in the world of artistry until the end of his life, and even more so after his death. For instance, he had a great deal of influence on other great artists such as Frank Stella.

Born in New York to a Jewish family, which immigrated from Poland-the same old story for most artists- he grew up working for his father, and later became a writer, teacher, and critic which supported him through the years, until one day he decided to take up expressionism, as a way to fight “the evils” of capitalism, and all full blown remnants of bourgeois society. Let us not forget that this was the man who “>mentioned: “I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality.”

An odd character, and artist, most of his pieces are mere abstractions, based on the idealized notions of light, the viability of colors-at times contrasting and not always primal. He called his lines “ strokes” and at times he divided his canvasses into two with one of his lines- something he never considered a division, rather a door. He himself said that a painter in a way is therefore “a choreographer in space” meaning that he/she creates forms, for the purposes of narratives, and not visual beauty.

Abstract art can be rather fortuitous, fragmentary, yet still appealing to some of its viewers. To those who think of themselves as apostates of abstract art, I cannot blame them as the lack of aesthetics usually derives a certain rancor. Yet, as I have mentioned this is mostly about narratives, and the visual definitions inside time and space- in short, it is about locality.

Newman's career was mostly based on paintings, but he also created some mesmerizing sculptures that still stand in public spaces today, such as his “The Broken Obelisk,” at the University of Washington. However, his work did not appeal to all, and not that it does so today, yet it does ask some very important questions about the space-narrative dichotomy that art sometimes works to achieve, and more importantly about the point of art without aesthetic appeal. 

He is in a long line of Jewish artists who broke away from conventions, if they could be called that, who threw themselves into the the world of abstraction, to discover new ways of understanding the act of painting, and the act of viewing it.