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"Gordon Newton: Selections from the James F. Duffy, Jr. Gift"
2001-07-15 until 2001-11-04
Detroit Institute of Art
Detroit, MI, USA

Gordon Newton is one of Detroit’s best known artists. Although often considered primarily as a sculptor, he has created a vast body of drawings over the last thirty years. His works on paper explore a wide array of subjects and experiment with unconventional combinations of materials and techniques. The 150 drawings in this exhibition reflect the scope of Newton’s vision.

Beginning with his highly abstract early work and continuing with themes related to recognizable subjects, Newton’s drawings invite viewers to let their imaginations run free. The works are not a straightforward presentation of the visible world. They hint at attitudes, ideas, and objects in broad, general terms and are open to interpretation. Strong references to Newton’s interest in the structure of things underlie most of his drawings. This concern is expressed in many forms. Sometimes this interest appears as a clear architectural element which becomes the subject of the work. Frequently, it is the actual manner in which materials are combined to physically build an image, or it can be an allusion to a principle or idea on which a composition is based.

As a young artist central to the city’s Cass Corridor art movement in the 1970s, Newton’s work ranged from highly controlled elegant gestures to muscular, almost violent combinations of mediums. He made solid, dark circular shapes on plain white paper by tying a piece of graphite to a stick and drawing continuous arcs. For other works, he literally used his fingers—and on occasion his feet—as his drawing tools. Torn-up old drawings, discarded papers, sheets of plastic, and various kinds of tape became the compositional elements of an untitled series of paper constructions.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Newton began to use varnish and wax extensively in his works on paper. He also concentrated on themes with a clear connection to people. He explored the notion of human depiction in an extensive series of “head studies” and the structural dynamics of interpersonal relationships in the descending lines of a family tree. Another series depicting the floor and ground plans for an imaginary English cottage was inspired by thoughts of building a perfect living space. Objects like the tail of an airplane, the parts of a tractor, and a military tank served as the springboards for images dealing indirectly with issues such as the role and influence of technology on modern life and society’s relationship to nature.

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