After graduating from Sydney’s College of the Arts in 2011, Heath Newman travelled extensively throughout Asia, settling in India for two years before moving to New York for another year after that.
While some artists flee the city to find their inspiration, it might seem surprising that Heath chose two of the most sprawling, chaotic places in the world to hone his gentle practice. It seems to me that part of the purpose for Heath is peeling back the layers of humanity, nature and allegory to get a little closer to what it all means.
There seems to be a deep conceptual exploration and philosophy behind your work. How important is that to you? And has it always been expressed through painting?
The philosophical elements of my work extend beyond my painting. I’ve always been developing these conceptual conversations in my art and in my life. I find mythology on a philosophical level to contain such deep ideas about the nature of the world. The ability to personify emotions and the environmental landscape really connected to me, and I love to deconstruct their motifs and in a way unravel and recreate their concepts.
Everything holds its own ability for expression, somethings more than others, but regardless I like to look for the capacity of beauty in everything.
I imagine there must have been a huge contrast between your extended periods in India and New York. What do you think you gained from both places?
Absolutely! The two couldn’t be more different; it was a strange crossover, I’ll admit.
India is a melting pot of existences. Everything is all laid out for you all the time, just there – life, death and every possible thing in between. It was a shock in the beginning of course but once you get deeper, there is a lifeblood that runs through the whole subcontinent that’s infectious and so incredibly inspiring. I had a little studio (I use that term loosely) on the roof of a building called The Bombay Palace in Rishikesh. I’d paint from sun up to sundown listening to the sounds of bells, chanting and people making their pilgrimages to the Ganga River (a holy place to all Hindus) whilst the smells of food and the beautiful colours of traditional garb, multi-coloured statues of deities and the soft hues of hundred-year-old paint fading off buildings would fill me with inspiration.
Flash to New York and I was painting in a studio in Brooklyn in the freezing cold staring out the window at a city with seemingly limitless potential, and wondering about whether I made a good decision moving. After some time, opportunities arose and things livened up for me. I met some truly incredible people there and the capacity for one city to hold so much beauty and creativity is really profound. I really challenged myself in New York and learnt a lot about who I am, it’s a hardcore city with tough edges, but once you break it, it’s soft and fertile with opportunity.
Back in Melbourne now, where do you typically create? What’s your process like?
I’m really lucky to have a studio at home, I find it incredibly useful for my practice to have my life surrounding me; although sometimes it is hard to pull myself away from the works.
I use a lot of different materials when I create; from pencil, to pastel, to acrylic and charcoal…When I use pastels and paint I’m quite close to the work, though sometimes I like to have distance and I make these drawing tools out of long branches I find on my walks and attach charcoal or pencils to them. It’s quite fun, trying to do a still life from two metres away from your painting, with a pencil bouncing around the end of a stick all over the canvas.
It’s a fast process and develops rapidly, often changing styles and markings many times throughout a day.
Can you tell me a bit about your upcoming show, Somnium, at Otomys Gallery?
The process has been so smooth [with Otomys], and I really feel like the works have flowed nicely. I’ve been reading a lot and developing concepts based on some personal experiences and relationships to mythology. There has been a lot of walking and foraging in the natural environment and it’s been nice working through a time when some beautiful native flora is in bloom, it has definitely come through strong in my works.
To shamelessly plug my show by-line (sorry), ‘the exhibition aims to transport the viewer to a realm of reverie and aid them to walk the serpent line of beauty, exploring a version of Arcadia where sensations and myth spill and blossom into flowers.’
‘Somnium’ by Heath Newman
July 26th – August 8th
Opening night July 26th, 6pm-8pm
567 Victoria Street