Interview: Heath Newman


Melbourne, Australia.



Please tell us a little about yourself, what brought you into the world of art?

I was always creative, throughout high school I was really interested in photography. I used to spend all my lunches in the darkroom at school and would experiment with weird processes of developing film and photos. It wasn’t until I finished school and had the opportunity to apply for art college that it really dawned on me that I could make art my career. Art school was great but the art world seemed huge and impossible to work out where to start. I ended up in New York for a year working two jobs and spending all my spare time in the studio. I was really into minimal abstraction at the time and would make works out of found timber and upcycled lighting. New York is an amazing inspiring place but was tough and exhausting, I missed the ocean and the Australian bush. Between New York, India and lots of travelling, I really stepped into my art practice and started to conceptualise what I wanted to make. It wasn’t until I moved back to Melbourne that I decided to really give it a push and since then things have been rolling along really well.

We would like to know more about your work, your ideas and the vision that you put into your paintings.

My work explores a pretty broad range of subjects. I like to keep things quite esoteric to give the works their own space to unfold. I read a lot, I jot down notes, poems, strange facts and usually fill a lot of pages with this abstract text. I’ve always been interested in mythology and the archetypes associated with them. Every region of the world holds its own mythology and I find the more I look into those the more I realise that the archetypes are often the same or connected. I love bringing that into my work and looking from ancient Pompeii to the Rajasthani desert and realising influences within their chronicles. When I’m out bushwalking or road tripping around Australia, I find plants, colours, or histories of places that resonate with me and record them in journals. The works usually start creating themselves from there. Once I’m in the studio things happen pretty fast. I like to use a pretty large range of materials and I find things sort of contain their own ability to express and I like to find what that is. Combining these elements, you really start to create a strong dialogue between the ideas and the work. I find inspiration in a lot of places and I like to look a little beyond the rational and that takes me to some interesting places. I feel like the world is this wonderous abstract place and you can find some sort of meaning in everything if you look deep enough. I think my paintings are a reflection of that, of taking all these elements and amalgamating them into this story of existence. Strange blossoming worlds coexist with metaphors and abstractions of the sheer profundity of life.

What does the process of creating a painting look like, how long does it usually take?

It takes form in many different ways really, I think I lack the sort of formula a lot of people have in their practice. I like to sort of give myself to the work and participate in the process more than control it. It sounds pretty strange, but I think everyone has been privy to the way that inspiration can guide you in a way, right? Maybe not.

I like to take nothing as a coincidence. If I’ve noticed something in nature, or a book or even an odd memory, I take that and put it down onto paper for later. Usually when I come back to it, it sort of has a new meaning and I’ll start to create something from that. The same goes for the life of the canvases themselves. They often fall over in the wind only to reveal an imprint of long grass, or ants create winding trails on the wet paint, but I am always happy to embrace that natural process. I like to get all my canvas together in one room and lay out some backgrounds, then I’ll mix a big pot of one colour and lay each background out with a slight tint adjustment or variation of the colour. Then just start flicking through my journals, creating the dialogue and adding all those elements together. Sometimes I can finish a work I’m really happy with in a day if everything just works, other times it takes months. I think the thing people often don’t understand is, if I make a work in a day, it didn’t just take that day to create the work, it took the entire 30 years of my life to make it.

I feel with painting, it is a harmony of addition and subtraction. You add something to the work and the balance changes, sometimes for the best, and sometimes not. It’s all about working with those additions or subtractions to really reveal something in the work. Composition is key and “mistakes” are always welcomed. I think having that sort of childlike approach to mark making is what really gives a work life. You sort of just become a participant of the work. I like to make strange drawing devices out of branches or sticks and tape charcoal or pastel to them, and in a way this imitates much of the Australian bush that is a source of inspiration in my practice. When you paint, you remove your “hand” from the works and a sort of honesty comes out that I really love. I think I usually just inherently know when a work is done, but often my partner will tell me when she thinks it’s at a good place and I’ll stop, she is usually right.

Tell us about your studio, it looks so cozy! It seems you are moving to a new studio larger?

Yeah, it’s a beautiful little spot where we live and the studio is tiny but there is a whole outside area and garden that I often paint in too. It’s full of fruit trees and lots of shade, so I like to be out there as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll have 10 paintings lined up on the grass drying and I’ll slowly add to them. There is something so beautiful about working in nature, I feel like the environment contributes a lot to the work.

The new studio is huge! So it’s a big change. I just finished painting it today and putting the final touches on it. It’s an old incense factory and it still smells like it, too. It will be great to have a bit more space and I’m sharing with some really talented artists also which I haven’t done in a while. I names the space ‘Studio of the Sun,’ and I want to create an art hub there to host workshops, events and collaborations.

Could you describe your usual working day? What kind of music accompanies you?

The  usual working day starts at about 5am with watering the bonsais and the garden then a lot of writing and planning. I like to jot out 3 or so pages of whatever is travelling around my mind and make a to do list out of whatever comes up. Then a surf, I live in the country in a small town called Mullumbimby, but it’s a short drive to the beach. I usually check the surf and see where the best spot will be and head down for a wave around 7 or so. I notice the difference drastically between a day that starts with a surf and one that doesn’t. There is something amazing about clearing your head in the ocean and then getting on with the day. After that I generally get into the studio and start with some works on paper or writing and then work myself up to some painting.

I like listening to podcasts when I paint, it’s nice to learn and get some inspiring information while I’m in the studio, but otherwise it’s music. Usually something quite ambient and not too intense. I’ve been listening to the Raga Vibration playlists on NTS Radio quite a bit and heaps of Brian Eno.

I find painting from about 9-3 seems to be the best for me. I don’t drain myself too much and I get a lot done. After that, it’s back to the beach or to the skatepark for the afternoon. The balance of having these things all involved in the day really helps. I don’t get too caught up in a day where painting isn’t working, I’ll just put down the brush and go for a surf or whatever, by the time I get back I’m in a pretty clear space and can greet what I’m doing with a fresh perspective. When I have the time, I love to go for a bushwalk or run somewhere around the national parks. I’m so blessed to be surrounded with waterfalls and bush tracks everywhere, so getting a dose of nature is pretty easy. By night it’s all very mellow for me and I usually eat early and wind down about 8 o’clock. I used to be a late night person but I find mornings so much more productive now.

What inspires you the most in your work?

It’s a tough thing to answer really, but I think that feeling you get when the inspiration hits you really fuels my practice. Sometimes I’ll think I’m not really in the mood to paint and I’ll just start to jot some ideas down, and then before I know it I’ve started three new large cavasses. There is no real rules to it, I just hits you sometimes in the strangest of places and you have to honour that and get into the studio. Being in nature really does that, I think plants really charge something in me.

What are your plans for the rest of this year, when and where is your exhibition planned?

This year is busy at this point, I have an exhibition with some works I made for a publication involving Australian artists who responded to the natural landscape. Then a solo show at Otomys Contemporary in November. After that, I’ve just been asked to show at a Korean Art Fair in Seoul followed by a solo show over there. I never would have thought I would have lined up a show in Korea this year, but I’m excited to experience the art world over there. I was also just accepted into a residency in Athens for next year which will be followed by a solo at The Dot Project in London.

Thoughts with which I would like to share with our readers.

I always find it hard to articulate my practice in proper details in interviews. I like to mention all the things that I participate in and use in my work but I find them limitless. I like for my works to be an expression of everything; to take a part from all that interests me and find some truth in there to put into the works. Things are always evolving for me and I often find my style to be cyclical and return to similar points at different times. I like to feel as though there is something bigger at play than me just working on artworks, like I’m some sort of mechanism or vessel for a greater artistic expression. That gives me a lot of solace to know that although I may be the name the works are associated with, the greater voice is in the process of creation.

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