Victor Newsome

Anne Berthoud Gallery

Victor Newsome’s shift from sculpture to drawing ten years ago marked the beginning of a group of obsessions—with a human figure in a room, with the need to find ways to describe hollow masses, with artistic creation as a function of stylistic demands. Newsome works with painful slowness. Though he paints, the major part of his work now seems to consist of elaborate, drawn preparations for a masterwork—a painting of a woman in a bath—and preparations for these preparations: sets of studies of a single ear, for instance. The drawings and lithographs in his present show have the air of explanatory texts: an androgynous head, hairless and without eyelids, is constructed, shadowed, and overshadowed in six stages. Drawn in geometric projection, switching from plan to sectional views, it becomes a distorted ovoid. This series, “Head 1,” reworks the downward-looking figure depicted in a small, untitled acrylic-on-wood painting from 1974. Rhythmic tracing keeps the surface of the skull in motion; as shadows deepen, the number of lines is increased. By the final version the space between each line has become a surrogate for sheer skin, now defined not by some mechanical method of mark-making around a void but by light. Paradoxically, as the structure becomes increasingly complex—and the drawing is all structure—outlines are lost, and the spaces that the grids of lines brought into being disappear without having disclosed any secrets. Newsome’s heads resist psychological interpretation, and smack still less of portraiture; assembled, it seems, out of sheer technical necessity, his subjects are smug, closed, perfect. They betoken, though they do not depict, religious meditation, an absorption in and simultaneous loss of self. Perhaps the unmistakable sense of evil the pictures convey denies this parody of beatitude. Perhaps they embody a warning against estheticism; Newsome is trying to locate ideal beauty by means of proportion. Yet that beauty is also a byproduct of the eroticism which feeds Newsome’s obsession. The repose of the heads, as sheer as if they were carved, the skin taut, the lips just parted, seems finally the result of work so well done that the object of desire exists, with almost callous self-consciousness, apart from its maker. Nothing has gone wrong. No revelation takes place. Closure has been achieved—so mysteriously, indeed, that the work seems almost to have taken over and to have spurned outside help. And Newsome starts all over again.

Stuart Morgan