John Newsom

"Eye of the Beholder"

I have always been deeply interested in the presentation of mark-making and how a certain collection of brushstrokes can affect the pictorial image. Mood plays a big role in the function of the surface structure. How fast a brushstroke is laid down becomes captivating compared to the thickness and thinness of paint application. I tend to work in figure/ground relationships, so there is a definite field-of-action within the overall picture plane. In these particular paintings the backgrounds are actually painted around the image of the large cats, although it appears that the larger-than-life portraits seem to be painted on top. This gives the marks more breathing room as everything is located on the same plane, no true overlapping. The impasto and heavier textures are only present in the areas of the portraits. The backgrounds remain monochromatic and flat, with the gestural marks and foliage rendered only after the portrait of each large jaguar is complete. Again, the palms are the last thing to be painted in terms of imagery, although they give the illusion to be located behind the head of the jaguar. It is the intelligence of formal painting strategies that root these paintings firmly in an abstract vernacular. They are not simply images, but rather meta-images, depicting not only jaguar as such, but the skeletal structure of the formal process of painting as well. The definition of what is being depicted follows the example of how the thing is painted. Otherwise, it would just be mere illustration and these works reverberate with a deeper assessment of the totality in which they are created.


The drawings included in this series of works become more atmospheric in nature. The process is very direct, charcoal on paper with no extraction, no erasure. Every mark carries weight. There is an inherent necessity to this manner of draftsmanship. No room is left for doubt. This process also feeds into the accumulation of the type of image itself. The presentation of these portraits are somewhat stoic and authoritative in nature without becoming oppressive. They are symbols of strength and assuredness. The titles in both the paintings and drawings are of one phrase, Eye of the Beholder. This is also the exhibition title and refers to the age old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I have always found this idea to be truth, and was inspired to embark on a specific body of work which recognizes not only the idea within a given image, but also the interchange between viewer and subject. Is the jaguar contemplating the viewer? Or is the viewer contemplating the big cat? Eventually, it is the act of looking itself that the viewer is left to experience. The jaguar is equally contemplative, not roaring or any type of emotion other than focus. This is the nature of observation itself, of absorbing oneself in a painting. It is a still and contemplative process, antithetical to the regulatory processes engaged in daily by the majority of contemporary humanity interfacing with the technological world. In this way, painting reenergizes itself, rekindles the origin spark. Painting is a humanistic endeavor spanning eons of time, not situated to a particular moment other than when one comes in contact with it. A painting without eyes on it is dead… or should I say dormant, because just as with the ancient paintings found in say The Valley of the Kings for instance - or the like, painting rejuvenates once it comes in contact with a viewer. The times change, the painting does not. It is the goal to have the work carry far within a vast span so that it may be as accessible to the common individual as it is to the scholar. Within the iconography of natural emblems and forms a connection with one’s inner nature is also established. Something such as the image of an exotic jaguar is both common and uncommon. Common in a sense that even since childhood, one finds the curiosity of a cat to be intriguing, and yet rare if ever seen in the wild, let alone at a slightly enlarged scale. This dialogue involves reality and wonderment coexisting, which of course is the inherent nature of all enduring experience.

John Newsom, April 2019

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