Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sarah Newton


I met Sarah Newton at an Open Studios in October at the Noonin Building. We ran into each other again riding a bus from Hunters Point Shipyard studios.

As Sarah Newton prepares to celebrate her pet snake's nineteenth birthday, she reflects upon her early career ambitions:

"In the sixth grade I had decided to be a herpetologist, but I probably imagined that it consisting of drawing pictures of animals all day."

Rather than growing up in a house full of pet toads and turtles, Newton was surrounded by art supplies from her father's creative pursuits:

"We always had a lot of art materials and activities in our home, as my father experimented with a tremendous variety of art media, [...] so there were a lot of slightly used oil pastels, colored pencils, and paints around for us to use"

Newton also cites her Uncle, Van Scranton, a mixed media artist who also worked at UCSB, as an important early influence. She recalls visiting visiting a gallery that Scranton ran for a couple years:

"I think he wanted to support the artists around him and to curate shows that interested him. My cousin and I went to many of the gallery openings and my father had some photographs in a group show there."

Newton started high school in rural Pennsylvania, but returned to California for her senior year. Although she began taking figure drawing at a community college at 16, Newton wasn't excited about going to college, even after visiting art schools with her uncle. After traveling around the state working for a political action group, Newton gravitated towards San Francisco's urban environment:

"It has [been] important to me to live in a place where people are connected in public life. Where I see the people around me on the street, doing errands, meeting friends, talking on the corner, selling things on the sidewalk, playing music."

Newton started taking printmaking, as well as drawing, at San Francisco City College. Originally, she found prints to be an interesting supplement to paintings by artists like Edward Hopper:

"There had always been some painters whose work I was interested in and whose prints I thought captured something that their paintings did not" 

After taking classes for several years, Newton finally decided to pursue a BFA at California College of Arts, where she ultimately focused on printmaking. There she found guidance from instructors Charlie Gill, Barron Storey, and Larry McClary and was challenged to study the intimacies of place:

"One of our assignments in an illustration class was to spend an entire day at one specific location and sketch all day"

This interest in public spaces continued outside the classroom in Newton's everyday activities. As she would return to her apartment in the Mission district, Newton would observe both the activity of people on the street as well as deserted elements of the urban landscape:

"People move from one store and then you see them talking to a different group outside another place. Sometimes there weren't people but these were the only lit storefronts and still the invitation sort of spills out into the street [...] I wanted to capture something that wasn't friendly or welcoming but was still intriguing... something that draws you towards it even though you aren't included in it."

After graduating, Newton traveled around southern Europe and joined the Graphics Arts Workshop when she returned to San Francisco. Taking inspiration from Vija Celmins and Robert Bechtle, she continues to explore public spaces in her work, such as a series based on a closed paint store across the street from her house:

"It was such a nowhere place - people would throw garbage over the fence, plants grew up through the asphalt, but around the edge of the space there was still a lot of activity"

Lately, Newton has moved beyond the urban landscape to the American landscape. Inspired by how the works of Thomas Moran, Frederic Church, and Winslow Homer promoted domestic tourism, Newton is working on a series of highway rest stops:

"I am thinking a little bit about [tourism and creating ideas about traveling], a little bit about people's expectations from public spaces, a little bit about the artificiality and standardization of these places that are in the middle of another place."

Watch the Arteaser Calendar for future shows with works by Sarah Newton

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