Moving parts, the next 100 years and musical inspiration
Oklahoma-raised, New York-based painter John Newsom gestures to the glass display case in the Nature’s Course Learning Gallery, displaying Fly International Luxurious Art, the sixth studio album from the Wu-Tang Family’s Raekwon.
“’I’m so happy it is presented here in the Learning Gallery,” Newsom tells Uncovering Oklahoma. “It’s the Learning Gallery. You’re learning about the work in the Main Gallery, but you’re learning about the thought process and the experiences that ultimately became those paintings. And it happens in layers.”
And the Learning Gallery does just that – from wall to wall, Newsom’s journey is on display. A salon wall of assorted works greets visitors, a collection of drawings, paintings and awards from Newsom’s early youth to his arrival in New York. A large bird and geometric shapes in crayon cover the first framed piece, a parallel to the massive canvases around the corner in the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery. As the artist says, “This is the blueprint” — his now-signature style first seen in the drawing by a 3-year-old Newsom.
Below hangs a work titled America’s Future in the Next 100 Years, winged beasts and colorful creatures filling the page.
“It was an assignment given to us when I was in second grade,” Newsom says in the video. “The whole school had an art competition to draw your version of what you felt America’s future in next hundred years would be. This is mine. There was a student next to me who completely lost interest in the assignment, walked off from his desk. I remember taking his drawing and finishing his drawing. We all handed them in – this was grades one through six – and this drawing, my drawing, got third place. The drawing of the student who was disinterested and left, whose drawing I finished, got first place!”
From grade-school honors to awards from the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum in 1987, the collage wall spans Newsom’s experimentation through still-life captures, photorealistic depictions, “surreal and dreamlike” color composition, a Van Halen concert drawing and his emerging signature Abstract Expressionist style.
“It’s so interesting to see the cross references that have happened through time in terms of subject matter,” Newsom says. “The nature has been there; the composition has been there.”
And if it wasn’t always there, Newsom found ways to uncover it. Along with works through the ages and a photo wall of stops on and supporters in his journey, Newsom’s musical inspiration and connection remain integral to the artist’s practice — they’re highlighted in the Learning Gallery. Graphite drawings of pivotal musicians from the painter’s early life offer insight into the ties between painting and music, and this relationship is further explored through Raekwon’s album.
The rapper had seen Newsom’s paintings and approached the artist with collaboration in mind. A two-week-turned-six-years project not only resulted in an iconic, golden, winged-creature album cover, but a transition in the painter’s subject material, heralding an era of big cats.
“Painting and music have always been intrinsically linked, throughout history,” Newsom tells German painter André Butzer in the catalog that will accompany the exhibition. “With music, there is complete abandonment, full immersion, and this is an organic physical quality of painting as well. It’s organic and spatial; it activates your sensory perception. It’s literally existing through your ears and eyes when you perceive painting and music. They go together.”
A kiosk station set up with an iPad and headphones linked to curated playlists lives next to the iconic album. Visitors and staff are able to add songs and playlists linked to a work on view in the Main Gallery, another dimension of his creative process.
Interactive components don’t end here — the stoic gaze of Homecoming’s bison pulls and immerses you in the Learning Gallery. With a quick flick of the wrist, the bison’s brown eyes transform into ice blue, belonging to Next Generation’s main character. On hinges, panels swing open and closed to reveal hidden flora, fauna and views, all pieces layered from his works on display in the Main Gallery.
“You open up other windows of shapes and objects within the paintings to reveal these windows of varied motifs and arrangements,” Newsom says. “And you know what? There really is an aspect of puzzle-like placement in the works, whether it’s figures or grounds or varying marks.”
“It’s almost like dichotomy of night and day. … Painting a rose is no easy task; it’s a tall order. Painting a sunflower is absolutely illuminating. It is like painting a sun.”
While the Learning Gallery offers a glimpse into Newsom’s world, it also functions as an opportunity for artistic exploration. Through the library filled with guidance and inspiration, visitors can learn and practice specific styles — or they can take their freshly gained knowledge and try their hand at a Newsom-style piece, illustrating wild animals and finishing the piece off with collage-like geometric shapes. This interactive project acts as a moment to gain physical access to the Oklahoma-raised artist’s practice, taking lessons from both the Main Gallery and this one and putting them to work through art-making. A collage wall proudly displays visitor works.
Grab fam and friends and explore the Learning Gallery, a window into the soul of Nature’s Course.
Return to New Light.