John Newman

(Born 1952, Flushing, NY; Lives and works in New York City)

In the early 90’s the art world had changed quite a bit. I was at Yale and thought,” no one in the art world cares about my academic credentials” so I left and I travelled on and off for 20 years, living off grants. I lived in India and Japan. I was in China and Africa, Italy, Ireland and Germany. Seeing particularly non-western art was a big influence on my work. My work became iconic-like objects, smaller pieces. I thought of them as “sacred objects for a secular world”, where, as in India, Japan and Africa, these objects had great power through intimacy, size and focus. I wasn’t interested in engaging in the whole space as in architecture. I wasn’t interested in immersive installations. 

I’ve always been interested in being in between categories. It was the transgender community that has come up with terminology about non-binary which I found fascinating. I’m interested in the idea of the non-binary meaning non oppositional, non-conflictual opposites, black and white, painting or sculpture, abstracion or representation. I’ve always been interested in the fact that these things are kind of blend and they weave in and out of each other or they create certain kinds of frisson by colliding them together. So that’s where I was using different material. I thought of them as metaphors. 

Basically it all comes down to drawing. Everything is about drawing but it’s about drawing in terms of attitude. I do make lots of different kinds of drawings. Sometimes I make finished refined things that are singular, meaning they don’t have anything to do with a possible sculpture. They might be a drawing of an impossible like imaginative form. Some of my drawings are clean. Some are really just funky and sketchy and sometimes I even would throw several different types of drawing into one drawing….from scribblings and note taking and then maybe I would draw a three dimensional representation of the imagined sculpture or even draw the sculpture after the fact from different angles and put them in a world together. I used to make these giant drawings in the 80’s and 90’s. When I was travelling so much I started making these very small drawings. I feel like drawing is thinking. 

I’m really interested in how, when you throw all these different things together, you create a metaphor. If you put two different things together, you get a third meaning that is different than the two individuals. That’s what a metaphor is. So, I’m saying, if you put these different systems together, say perspective and illusionism with gesture mark making, you’re going to come up with something quite different. That’s what I’m interested in right now with the new wall pieces I’m making.

–Conversation on February 20, 2021

Listen to our conversation here:


Selected Image from the Collection:

Newman, John, Untitled, 2001, ink, gouache, pencil on paper, Object: 16 x 8 3/8 in.