“A painting comes alive for me when I can feel the air in it.”—Laura Newman
Laura Newman’s paintings are improvisational, which means that for a period of time they transform into being. Between their initial washes of color and what is built onto them, Newman’s works accommodate various ways of recording the act of looking through mark making. Just as they embrace spontaneity by process, they also employ a very particular set of structures that quite often describe the linear—only not in a necessarily temporal sense. Devices like these create a sense of spatiality within the image. Washes of color mediate between the tones of Newman’s handmade paper and the curves, lines, and circles that gather on top. Space, then, becomes not just the visual conveyance of planes and proportions, but of the sense of air created by and shared within them—turning, whorling, fizzing, shimmering, collapsing, sometimes still. Writing about another artist’s work, Newman makes this sensibility lucid: “Like a little kid enthralled by a magician’s tricks, I’m a sucker for the miracle of a diagonal line making the illusion of space.”
As in her painting practice as a whole, this body of work in particular responds to the built environment around them. As Newman witnesses the continual adjustment and construction of apartment towers around her neighborhood, she echoes the angled characters of cranes and scaffolding; which elsewhere turn into forms that web and weave; then settle into cubes, screens, tunnels and become unsettled again as in the movement of a dress or the floating world of a pool. One can imagine looking up at some of these structures from the sidewalk, or as the view across from Newman’s large studio windows, or down into a space seen from the layers of a parking lot. (In the words of her peer Amy Sillman: “Never trust a Laura Newman vertical.”)
The sense of space has always been integral to Newman’s work, at each turn considering how we might fill something abstract with narratives of experience. The paintings on paper occupy an equal territory within Newman’s larger practice, which can be roughly divided into three—alongside her architecturally scaled paintings of abstract structures and smaller paintings of nocturnal spaces on ink stained raw linen. Like her sharp, dark lines, particular motifs reappear throughout her oeuvre: spinning ovals, curves bending round, jagged strips like flashes of fire or energy, X’s that meet, tangle, and depart again. The room within them is washed and their dimensional forms rendered inky, so that these liquid images convene as spaces filled with emotion—water, after all, is the element of emotion.
Laura Newman (b. Cleveland, OH; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) studied at Cooper Union, CalArts, and The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She has been awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Rome Prize, and New York Foundation on the Art; and has undertaken residencies at VCCA, Yaddo, The American Academy in Rome, and MacDowell. Recent solo exhibitions include Victoria Munroe Fine Arts, New York; University of Connecticut, Storrs; and a two-person show at 490 Gallery, Brooklyn. Recent group exhibitions include The Pursuit of Aesthetics, Morgan Lehman Gallery, and The American Academy of Arts and Letters Invitational Exhibition, New York, where her work is currently on view. She is a professor and chair of the Art Department at Vassar College.