Wednesday, 05 April 2017 16:18

Talking textures and torsos

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"Paris is Burnning", inspired by the Orlando shooting "Paris is Burnning", inspired by the Orlando shooting Pictures supplied by Mike Newton

South African artist Mike Newton, whose work "Torsos and Textures" was recently on exhibition at the Alliance Francaise in Johannesburg, is that rare thing -  a painter with several distinct, yet simultaneous, styles. He works as the mood moves him, using very different media. Consequently each painting takes on its own trajectory, presenting a challenge to a curator as to how to group and present his body of work.

As the exhibition's title indicates, Mike has an ongoing fascination with torsos and the human body, stemming from four years in Athens.

Nobody who spends any time in the home of the greatest statuary of all time could be immune to its pure symmetry and aesthetic pleasure. The torsos of classical Greece, which are all that remain after hundreds of years, have a pristine, stripped-down beauty, which was probably lacking in the quite gawdy originals. One can understand how the ancient Greeks believed that their gods were in human form as a pantheistic sense still lingers in some of the ancient sites.

Besides the worship of the human form, the lines and light of Greece are also magical, a gift to any artist. This influence comes through in Mike's paintings again and again, for example, in an enormous canvas entitled "Greek Mediterranean" a giant blue vista which shows classical statues and the Parthenon as well as a Byzantine church.

But he contemporises his classical influences. "Is Paris Burning", the title of a famous Jean-Paul Belmondo movie, portrays last year's Orlando shooting, with barbed wire ripping into a torso.

Dance is another fascination. He says: "I am intrigued by figure movement, especially in dance, and the shapes of the human form". The dancing figures on the Greek amphorae come through in his work, suggesting a Bacchic dance of fauns, satyrs and nymphs.

Texture also mesmerises him and he adds found objects to his screens, such as oak leaves, tattoo art pins, putty and old bread boards to suggest three-dimensionality and emotion.

He loves line and almost draws in the paint. "I hate a white canvas - I have to put some paint on it. I use the process of paint and something emerges from it. Objects suggest themselves to me."

He shudders at the thought of working in oil paint, preferring acrylic, charcoal, ink, wax and crayon - and sometimes even coffee.

Other artists are also a great inspiration. Hints of Leonardo da Vinci's sketches, Rembrandt and other greats can be clearly detected and Mike is proud of their influence.

His work moves through a gamut of styles from almost Gauguin-like naivete to  semi-abstraction. Sometimes abstraction takes over and an unfinished canvas suggests a blue play of water and cloud that could transform into something altogether different in its finished form.

After running an airline magazine and working as a journalist Mike is happy in his new role as fulltime artist. He has set up his easel in the marbled al fresco space adjoining the swimming pool of the huge Miss Havesham-esque mansion which he is the custodian of, and paints all day.  The space is like a scene out of The Great Gatsby, with luxurious Persian carpets simply left on a big wooden desk, and an air of abandoned grandeur, while the garage, usually home to a stately blue Rolls, has become his "gallery" space. More paintings grace the walls of his cottage.

The Alliance show was curated and overseen by Isa Schwartz of iBI ART and Schwartz Art and Jewellery, who has organised this first solo show this year as well as an exhibition in Melville last year. While we sip coffee and eat Fournos chocolate croissants which Mike has kindly run out for, she talks to him about how she was going to group his work, according to the different themes and use of materials, for the Alliance exhibition.

Thanks to Isa's great eye, the Alliance exhibition went off beautifully and eight paintings were adorned with red dots. There are plans to extend the exhibition - don't miss it!

 

 

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