It’s professors like Laura Newman that make you wonder how anyone could possibly utter the phrase, “Those who can’t do, teach.” The art professor, who has taught at Vassar for twelve years, opened a solo show this past month and will duo with another artist in May, both in New York City.
Sitting in her sun-soaked New Hackensack office, Newman speaks unpretentiously of her craft and lovingly of her students. A pair of pristine loafers sit beneath her desk, traded in for some paint-splattered boots, and works in various stages of completion sit propped against the wall. Her favorite painting is Henri Matisse’s View of Notre-Dame; “It’s the most abstract work he ever did… I love to just sit with it, it’s almost like an old friend.”
Newman’s most recent solo show premiered at Victoria Munroe Gallery on April 4,featuring a group of new large-scale mixed media paintings on canvas and on paper. “When I’m working in the studio, I’m not thinking about work for a specific show,” Newman says, “I work on many things at the same time, and you’ll see that presence in my shows.” Many of the paintings came from a project she’s been working on for the past three years, abstract paintings of structures that contain a range of approaches to form-- hard-edged geometrical shapes, loose gestural dry brushed strokes of ink, and architectural references. “I’m more interested in space than I am about representing something exactly, using brushstrokes to portray that effect.”
Also serving as inspiration for Newman’s painting is Rome, where she spent last summer doing a residency with the American Academy. In particular, she was drawn to the city’s status of being in constant transition, where the definitively ancient is simultaneously maintained and updated. “I started thinking about how, in Rome, you’re always looking at things through layers of time,” she explains, “You look at architecture through scaffolding, fragments of multiple paintings through baroque architecture, ruins through later ruins. I began to explicitly use layering as a tool.”
Newman’s second show, staged alongside fellow artist Marcy Rosenblatt will feature more of her recent work. As for the pieces themselves, they are eye-catching not only in their beauty but also their scale, with most of them standing at about six feet tall. Sturdy beams and gleaming glass windows, familiar architectural features, are crosscut by less grounded imagery, variously colorful and inky.
Laura Newman is an abstract painter based in Brooklyn, NY. She has taught art at Vassar College for twelve years.
But enough about the painting-- Newman is vastly more interested in discussing the achievements of her colleagues and students than she is in heralding herself. Her largely stoic expression shifts to a soft smile as she speaks of them; “Everyone who teachers art at Vassar has an active artistic process- they are all making art in terrific ways.” She’s especially fond of her students; “I learn from them all the time,” she says before launching into a story involving her Painting II class and the geography of a mouse brain, “they bring so much to the classes, it’s never just about what the teacher has to say.” Landing at Vassar was a happy accident for Newman, who previously taught at Yale, Cooper Union, NYU, Brown, and RISD.
Newman’s second show will debut May 5 at 490 Atlantic Gallery in Brooklyn, while her solo show runs through May.