Walk into the McMurry Gallery at the Nicolaysen Art Museum this summer and the first thing that you see is color: bright, vibrant swaths of it, everywhere you look.
Lynn Newman’s world is a riot of color, no matter what he looks at. And such color! Jewel tones, bright pinks and yellows and reds, even electric blues.
Then there’re the horses.
They look out at the viewer from the walls as they go about their business of grazing, standing, in blues, greens, yellows, reds and purples. It’s as though Lynn sees the spirit of the horse in color. Newman says that color is about emotional response. He doesn’t mention the formal aspects of balance and composition— after decades of practice these things are ingrained in how he looks at a painting.
Lynn Newman: Hope, Dreams and Love is a retrospective of an artist who has lived, taught and painted in Wyoming for more than 40 years. This exhibit of more than 80 paintings — and that’s not all he had available to show — demonstrates the incredible body of work he has built up in the past 15 years alone.
Newman clearly glories in paint: there’s oil, acrylic and watercolor, some judicious collaging and a few wood cuts. He loves to work large, although even his biggest paintings look small in the huge McMurry Gallery. But don’t ignore his small ones. They convey as much feeling and include a delicacy of touch that might be less noticed in larger pieces. His interest is firmly fixed on the natural world of landscapes, flowers, horses and a few bison. The range of expression varies from representational to impressionist to emotional. He paints what he observes, yes, but often a heightened, or preferred version. Newman paints to both capture the beauty he sees, and to banish his own worries about the world — or perhaps simply because it makes him “feel good” as he said in his artist talk. This normally articulate artist was overcome by seeing the obsession of his time laid out for all to see.
A set of three horse collage paintings stand out. These three are Basquiet-like with a strong modernist feel to the way the paint is handled, the collaging and the abstraction. At around 10 years old, these are some of Newman’s earliest collage paintings. This early experiment with collaging, which includes bits of children’s artworks, newspaper elements, and paper of various textures, even a bit of an old can, has proved fruitful and reappears in later paintings, including very recent ones like Casper Love Story. Newman says when he created these three paintings he was working with contours. Unlike later paintings, like Wild Horses X, the contours never disappeared from the horses. In the later ones, playing with drawing and painting, he would lay down the contours then set in the paint and let it run. After painting, he would come back and lay in the contour lines where necessary to create definition.
Newman also creates definition and texture is with writing. The words can only seen clearly up close. They entice the viewer into the piece even while being unobtrusive — if you don’t want to know that’s good too. The words function almost like affirmations.
Lynn specializes in loose and almost impressionist style painting but can also do more defined pieces like Horses Walking on the Wind and Horses Grazing in the Wind. These pieces, while still loose, use a strongly linear aspect to define the landscape.
All the babbling about horses makes it sound like he is primarily a horse painter. Lynn paints landscapes as well — everything from sweeping views of our huge skies, to up close views of his wife’s flower garden, to stands of purple aspens in yellow light. One of my favorite examples of his landscapes paintings and use of color is Harriman Barn. The viewer is helplessly aware of the storm in the painting, or maybe the anticipation of a storm.
A curatorial statement might have improved this show, and the companion show by Dan Marshall. It never hurts to help viewers understand why an institution chose to hang a specific show, by particular artists at a certain time. Dates on the labels could enhance the viewing experience, particularly in Newman’s show, as could artists statements for both shows. Curatorial statements might also have helped the viewer to understand why there was a gallery devoted to dollhouses, and who Ben George was. The Nicolaysen is a jewel in our state, and a major tourist destination in the summer. It has amazing and unusual collections. Interpretative support, beyond what is provided for children, would make this museum’s shows more accessible to the public.
The overwhelming takeaway of Newman’s show, further reinforced by Dan Marshall’s show, is that that there is beauty everywhere, if one will just stop to see it.
Stepping into the adjacent Ptasynski Gallery, the viewer moves from a world of color and movement into a space of quiet. Landscapes line the walls, a familiar world of barns, mountains, fields, trains. Strong lines are paired with minimal details. One gets the sense of grasses and mountains through washes of green and purply gray.
Dan Marshall’s watercolors seem like they are all painted in times of low light — evenings, early mornings or cloudy days. Marshall consciously limits himself to a smaller palette of mostly neutrals and soft pastels. The choice of colors and minimal details brings with it a sense of nostalgia and a sense of space, almost as if the artist’s desire is to bring attention to the spaces he paints, either vast or particular.
Marshall gave an interesting artist talk as well, and graciously answered numerous questions. He also works as a tattoo artist, and commented that watercolors, and painting in general, offer him the opportunity to work in a looser style. Tattooing requires more precision, and yet, he finds that the two inform each other in ways he had not expected. He tattoos in black and gray and finds that choice has influenced him to select more tonal colors in his watercolors as well.
Marshall is primarily a plein air artist. Plein air is a French term for paintings which are created out of doors and emphasizing the luminous effects of natural light. He mentioned that none of these paintings take him more than two hours and it’s clear from the paintings that he enjoys that immediacy of response. Marshall moved to Colorado after living on both coasts, and this show is all work from up and down the I25 corridor that he’s done in the past few years of living in Colorado.
“Outer Drive Vista” was painted in Casper. The painting captures those few minutes of time when the light in Wyoming is soft, almost misty, while reminding us again just how big the landscape we live in is.
The Nicolaysen chose well this summer when it hung these two shows together. As we look at these landscapes, and others, it is important to reflect on what they bring to us that’s different from what we see with our own eyes. To my mind, Newman draws colors from the landscape that I think many of us do not see. Marshall, on the other hand, uses the colors most of us might see to highlight the beauty of the ordinary: the daily landscape made extraordinary.