Critical Reflections: Eugene Newmann - The Bodies & Dana Newmann - A Pilgrim’s Notes

Linda Durham Contemporary Art<br /> 1101 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe

Date June 30, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Author Richard Tobin

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


Newmann's Law of Gravity: most of the paintings in Eugene Newmann's The Bodies allude to man and beast in various states of motion, specifically in stages of falling and in final states of rest. The painter's focus on dynamic form and stasis is evident in the abstractive figuration and atmospheric space recalling Susan Rothenberg's reductive and expressionist paintings of horses in the mid 1970s. Here, broadly drawn animal shapes often approaching pictographs are rendered with painterly brushwork on a chalky surface whose allied hues and warm tonality set off the figures against its neutral ground. And like Rothenberg's large horse paintings, Newmann's smaller canvases eschew descriptive detail for formal study of its subjects-as bodies in movement and at rest. Newmann's biomorphic forms take on the character of objects in a treatise on physics illustrating the motion of bodies. Their inertia, acceleration, or force and counterforce comply as much with the laws of nature governing motion as they conform to principles of painting in composition.

And as with Rothenberg's style in the horse paintings, Newmann's spare deployment of figures, his equally spare choice of pastel tones, and his painterly handling combine to yield lean, lyric forms that invite poetic metaphor. In Newmann's series, motion is a metaphor of change. It emerges in the visual metamorphosis of his figures. His compositions feature shapes that shift from figurative to abstract, keyed to the kinetic change of these bodies from movement to rest. Falling, Falling, Fallen II has a circular arrangement of three figures common to several works in the series. A reclining male form in chalky deep blue set at the bottom center of the canvas draws the eye up and to the right along its diagonal to a dark purple figure whose half-man, half-beast form leans or leaps leftward, continuing the counterclockwise arc that drops downward along the upright shape of an equally amorphous alizarin figure in arrested motion. Falling, Falling, Fallen V confines this metamorphosis to a single subject, transforming a leaping figure into two arc variations on its biomorphic form, one white and the other a bright red in sharp contrast to the olive figure and ochre background, as if to reinforce the subject's transition to a different state of being.

What adds to the visual appeal of these paintings and their strength as formal studies is the apparent grounding of the series' conceit in a painting by Manet entitled Incident in a Bull Ring, in particular in one of the two surviving fragments of the canvas referred to as The Dead Man or Dead Toreador. Newmann emulates a "modern"€ practice used by Courbet and embraced by Manet-consciously citing passages from works by earlier masters in his own work. In Bodies, Newmann has introduced Manet's dead bullfighter in Incident as the paradigm of the fallen figure-the body at rest-just as Manet's rendering of the fallen torero was itself a direct quote from a painting attributed at the time to Velázquez and depicting a dead soldier in armor (now in the National Gallery, London). Newmann expanded his conceit of motion as metamorphosis by drawing on other sources that influenced Manet's painting, in particular etchings and paintings by Goya (e.g. his Tauromachia, or the Art of Bullfighting) and other paintings by Velázquez (e.g. Los Borrachos). As in Manet's recourse to Goya and Velázquez, the subject of Newmann's series-the toreo, or bullfight-is largely a vehicle which the painter uses to explore pictorial issues and visual conceits-here, the motif of bodies in motion as metaphor of change and transformation. The two large related canvases in Bodies capture this theme of metamorphosis. Manet's dead bullfighter reprised in Falling, Falling, Fallen is transformed to an abstract configuration in Two Bodies (Under Virgo), while, above the fallen torero, what appears to be a bull and Goya's picadors (horse-mounted bullfighters with lances)-already turning into abstract shapes-are likewise transformed in the second painting, assuming the features of landscape.

The art-historical aspect of Eugene Newmann's Bodies is a bridge of sorts to the accompanying series by Dana Newmann, A Pilgrim's Notes, but there the connection ceases. Pilgrim's one table piece, The Surrealist Cabinet of Wonders, containing miniaturized versions of works by prominent early Dada and Surrealist Modernists, provides only a remote historical reference for the wall-collage techniques in the handsome series.

In Bodies, however, Newmann takes a page out of the Modernist book that Manet helped write, emulating Manet's visual recourse to art history-quoting passages from works by earlier masters as motifs for his own paintings and as catalysts for his own pictorial conceits.