John Newsom may have spent the past three decades in the concrete jungle of New York City but his work is still very much informed by his formative years spent in the wild landscapes of the plains states.
Nature’s Course is on exhibition through Aug. 15 at Oklahoma Contemporary, 11 NW 11th St.
Born in Kansas, Newsom lived in Enid during his later childhood and into his teenage years before moving to New York for graduate school where he still resides and maintains a studio. His parents still live in Enid, he said.
Newsom was joined by actor/director Matt Dillon on March 25 at Oklahoma Contemporary for an artist discussion about many of the paintings included in Nature’s Course, including the eponymous 9 feet by 18 feet painting that greets visitors as they enter the gallery.
“I would catch bull snakes and garden snakes and frogs and toads and it was like an all-American childhood,” Newsom said. “And I was drawing along the timeline of that as well. You can see it in the Learning Gallery that the curators here at the Oklahoma Contemporary did such a wonderful job of researching and laying out. This exhibition began four years ago. We said the museum opened two years ago but the idea for Nature’s Course began before the museum was even built. I remember coming here, standing here in this place where it was just the skeletal structure of this building.”
“I paint. That’s the type of art that I make. I don’t make sculpture. I’m really in the alignment of painting. What you see in the exhibition ‘Nature’s Course’ consists of 31 paintings made over the last 20 years. It was Jeremiah’s [Oklahoma Contemporary Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis] to begin the exhibition with the bodies of work at the turn of the century and I think it was a brilliant idea,” he said.
His paintings are an amalgam of different styles and techniques, often incorporating hyperreal depictions of nature with geometric shapes and dense layers of paint on enormous canvases.
“Painting is a very old medium. It’s ancient … I think of painting in ancient Egypt and northern Japan and those painters that are out in those landscapes. I do think of naturalism. You walk through the exhibition and you pick up on these things that are old. It’s not just about the 20th century, although the 20th century is extremely viable in terms of abstraction and the large canvas and the pictorial ideas and processes of Modernism and I embrace that stuff. I don’t shy away from that. I want to tackle that, but I also want to take on these older narratives within the construct of painting’s history,” he said.
“A part of me can’t wait to get back to the studio in New York and launch into paintings. … You’ve got to live through it. You know this. You’ve got to make the work. … You’ve got to go through the blood, the sweat, and the tears and the daily grind. Whether you want to get up and do it or not. On many days, I want to get up and I’m excited to get to the studio. And there’s other days that are meh, but overall, it’s wonderful to have it gathered like this and it was so well-curated by Jeremiah [Matthew Davis] and the team here. I’m really grateful for this opportunity,” Newsom said.