‘Promethia’ - Michael Newberry
Promethia, 1982, oil on linen,
78 x 58 inches (198.1 x 147.3 cm) Available
Artist Michael Newberry explains why this painting is so special to him:
I completed Promethia in 1982, when I was 26 years old, while living in Staten Island. The painting is about honoring truth, one’s goodness, and beauty.
It’s a large painting, over six feet, and I worked, non-stop, for about a year on it. This is one of my most important works because it marks my transition from painting what I saw to what I envisioned. The painting began from my imagination as a concept sketch on a tiny bit of paper – my ideal landscape of architecture, sculpture, and site. I had to merge four completely different subjects into an integrated whole: the landscape background was taken from a study of the desert near Palm Springs; the building is the U.C.S.D. library in La Jolla, California (its original setting was a forest of eucalyptus trees); a marble figurative sculpture (which never existed); and creating the image of the sculpture from a living model.
I loved modern architecture’s ability to solve complex problems of living requirements, traffic patterns, form follows function, and it’s integration to the site. But I didn’t see modern architecture having much to do with the limited expression of abstract sculpture, so I wanted to show what I would love to see: a beautiful, expressive figurative sculpture set against a stunning and monumental building. Marble doesn’t do to well with the grime and soot of cities, so I chose to have a vast natural landscape of the arid drama of the California desert.
A dear friend, Jennifer Trainer, posed for this. She brought a lot of character, intelligence, and sincerity to the project. Promethia is the female version of Prometheus with a twist. He was punished for giving the knowledge of fire to humanity, but I wanted change that outcome to show that self-esteem or pride in oneself protects one from being downtrodden – hence her very erect posture and level lift of her face.
At that time in my life, I was working incredibly hard to excel in figurative art. Yet I couldn’t find, either in Los Angeles, or in Holland, other artists that were ahead of me in this direction, or even some artists working in this direction. I remember that in the early ’80’s no one bought contemporary representational work. It felt like I was the only one that believed in beautiful paintings with vision. Promethia is now (in 2009) 27 years old. And the painting is just as meaningful and beautiful to me as the day I finished it.
PS: Promethia will be on display in the Landscape with a Modern Edge exhibition at the Newberry Gallery in Santa Monica, October 17 – November 21, 2009. It will be her first public appearance in 25 years.
Visit Michael here at his website, or his new gallery – or his blog. (He’s everywhere, he’s irrepressible.) And here he is again: in a neat 44 seconds film spot on him, his work, and his gallery/studio.