Stephen Newton’s years of contemplation and engagement with painting and drawing (his art is supported by a highly reasoned theoretical position, so articulate that it has provoked numerous academic papers, lectures and publications) has resulted in a distillation of that fusion between the physical and intellectual in the creative process – the essence being a reduction to primitive, almost primeval, images of immense power.
In much of his work the sense of human isolation, ignorance, inadequacy and fragility is offered in the ‘present’ of an image, whilst the suggestion of an undefined ‘redemption’ lurks off stage (through a door or window; over the horizon; beyond a wall, in a mirror’s reflection). In Newton’s painting, this reduction to a language of the icon is supported by a symbolic use of paint. A heavy gestural and highly charged – physical, in fact – technique that results in any pictorial motif, say a building, disintegrating into an abstraction when viewed up close.
By considering the ancient motifs and visual texts of – say – cave painting, one can begin to approach and understand Newton’s work. It is interesting to note when considering wall painting and pre-historic drawings that, contrary to common understanding, individual pictures were repeatedly ‘added to’. Pictorial elements were superimposed – one on top of another – with impunity, often over tremendous periods of time. The Giant Horse Cave at Cape York Peninsular, Australia (20th millennium BC) would be a good example of this. Here, as in many other works from pre-history, there is a total absence of the tenet of a ‘unique’ work of art, or a ‘finished’ work of art – barely conceivable today. Pre-historic peoples did not quest for vanitas, for beauty, but rather aimed to document the complex social and spiritual code within which they existed. For Newton, the paramount consideration is the authenticity of an image by which it reconciles its meaning with a deeper, almost subliminal, spirituality – it is with this that the artist attempts to imbue each individual painting, to generate a relevance and a universal resonance.