Douglas Newton is a New York artist whose work is fresh and delightful.  He paints things like candy wrappers, food and fun objects.  However, don’t let the light nature of his work fool you.  Douglas is serious about light, color, line and composition.  He’s a great artist …

MICHAEL: Hey Douglas! Your work is delightful. It's refreshing and really has an exuberant spirit. What's it all about for you?

DOUGLAS: Hi Michael, I'm basically a painterly realist. My paintings are inspired by the way light transforms what we see. My paintings of candy are more about the wrappers than the candy, complex translucency and transparency in cellophane, reflected colors, shiny foils. Translating that into oil paint is the challenge and the fun. I also do more subdued paintings of food and household objects. But it's still about light transforming the ordinary into something magical.

MICHAEL: What kind of lighting do you need to create your work?  Fluorescent?  Incandescent?  LED?  Daylight?  How and when do you do most of your painting?

DOUGLAS: I mostly use artificial light. My windows face west, which makes for lots of variations. If I had north light, I'd use it. A good simulation of north light is clamp lights with both warm and cool LED bulbs shining through a scrim. My scrim is a 3' x 3' light wood stretcher with glassine paper over it. The light casts nice, soft-edged shadows and the highlights are soft too, much like you'd get from window light on a cloudy day. Some subjects need harsh, direct light and I use LED bulbs for that too.

MICHAEL: When I look at your work, I see light, color and line.  Yet creating the transparency and reflection looks like a real challenge.  Is that fun or a pain in the ass for you?

DOUGLAS: Creating illusions is part of the fun. The overall composition is the most important part of a painting, but working on the surface qualities is absolutely not a chore. Because you're not copying reality exactly, like a photograph, there are constant decisions about how much detail should be included or just suggested and how much should be painterly. Oil paint is magical stuff that can look both like a shiny piece of glass and rich, colorful paint. The tension between the two creates a lot of the interest.

MICHAEL:  When you are painting, what's going through your mind?  Is the process more intellectual, emotional or spiritual?  Is it meditative?  Do you listen to music while you paint or do you need silence?  

DOUGLAS: When I'm trying to come up with a painting, it is intellectual because I'm measuring it against my own work and other artists I admire. It's also emotional: panic, despair and finally, hope that it will turn out. I need total silence in that phase. Once I commit to a painting, I can listen to music, mostly classical or NPR talk. If I get into trouble, it's back to silence.

MICHAEL: Have you ever gotten halfway through the process and destroyed a painting?  What goes on when a painting is "in trouble"?

DOUGLAS: I have abandoned paintings, usually because I no longer liked the overall idea or composition, not because the details are going wrong. With oil paint, a good scraping to get the excess paint off sometimes improves things and it's easy enough to paint right back into it. After working on something for week, I usually have too much time invested in it to abandon it. Battling through adversity builds character.

MICHAEL: Speaking of battling through adversity, what do you think about the art world/art market today and how they function?  Do they interest you or even make sense to you?

DOUGLAS: We all know about the speculative fever at the high end of the art market. Ultra-rich collectors who buy investment grade art and put it in storage, instead of on their walls. It would be fun to see prices plunge and watch these investors lose their shirts, but I don't think it would help the rest of the art market. Real collectors, who buy art because they love it, would be hesitant to buy in a falling market. Beginning collectors would be afraid to make their first purchase.

Better to be philosophical about human nature that hasn't changed since the Dutch tulip mania. The art market reflects our society's values and income distribution and artists can't change things very much.

MICHAEL: Let's go back to your work. You really like deep, rich color.  In fact, color really seems to be the hallmark of your work.  How do you see color?

DOUGLAS: I do like to use really intense color, but intense color only works against muted darks and lights. A red, translucent candy or tissue paper pops because of the dark reds, browns and purples in the shadow areas setting off the brightest color. There are also lots of tinted grays in my paintings, made by mixing across the color wheel, instead of by just mixing black and white. A good gray can be made by mixing Pthalo Blue, Mars Red and some White, creating a range of blueish to brownish grays. These grays can be further tinted with other colors. I do use black to get the very darkest colors or pure black, but don't use it to darken colors generally.  

Paintings done by just using black everywhere to darken and mute colors have a "sooty" quality. More interesting muted colors are made by mixing from all around the color wheel.

MICHAEL: Your work also has a playful quality. Is that the color or is it you?  I mean, your paintings feel fresh and good spirited. Is that your intention?  Where does this come from?

DOUGLAS: I guess you're right. I just finished another painting of stuffed toys and what could be less serious? I guess the news is full of enough evil stuff that I don't need to add to it. It comes from appreciating the beauty in the ordinary life around us. I hope my paintings help other people see that as well.

MICHAEL: When did this all begin for you?  Do you come from an artistic family?  

DOUGLAS: I've been drawing and painting from my beginning. I must of shown some ability, because I went to an art school run by the Seattle Art Museum from 9 to 12 years old. There was no instruction; we learned by watching the high school age kids. I continued through university and Art Center School and then made a living as an advertising art director while painting and drawing on the side. As to family, I had an aunt who did watercolors, not professional grade but sincere. No other artists in the family.

MICHAEL: Hmm.  So I take it that you don't think great artists are born?  Nature vs. Nurture?  Do even great artists have to work at it?

DOUGLAS: That's a tough one. Rubens had lots of hard-working assistants, but only one was as talented as Van Dyke. Perhaps that extra talent was in Van Dyke's DNA. But Van Dyke was also extremely hard-working, doing it all in just 42 years. One can have talent to burn, but if you're lazy, it means nothing.

MICHAEL: Finally Douglas, what’s the point of art for the world?  Most people don't buy art and it's not curing cancer or homelessness.  Why should people care?

DOUGLAS: Art has no practical purpose, except to nourish the spirit. Most of us have had the experience of leaving an artist's exhibition and seeing the world through that artist's eyes. Pollock makes us see random splatters on a wall as fascinating. Van Gogh makes us see the night sky as an amazing vision. Hopper makes the entire city look like a Hopper. Rembrandt makes us see faces with deeper understanding. Ordinary people, not just the elite, must be getting something out of great art. The Metropolitan Museum is the single biggest attraction in New York City.

MICHAEL: Nicely and succinctly said.  Thanks Douglas. Very cool chat. 

DOUGLAS: Thank you.  I enjoyed it.

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