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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Art. Sacha Newley

Born in New York City in 1965, Sacha Newley first began to paint seriously at the age of 18.

After a period of study, during which he honed his life drawing skills and made numerous copies from the Old Masters, notably Velasquez and Van Dyck, he broke away to develop his own unique style. For his place of retreat and study he chose the English fishing village of Lyme Regis, drawn there by its long association with the arts and its romantic setting.

Situated on the southwest coast of England, Lyme was first settled by the Romans, and is famous for its ancient stone breakwater curving out to sea like a whiplash. Jane Austen wrote Persuasion there, and Whistler began his experiments in seascape that culminated in his masterful nocturne sequence of the River Thames. Newley first became aware of Lyme as the setting for the cinematic version of John Fowles's novel The French Lieutenant�s Woman, and discovered that the reclusive novelist actually lived there, as did many other artists and writers.

Newley developed a number of important artistic friendships while in Lyme and benefited richly from an exchange of ideas. With money he had earned from early portrait successes, he bought an apartment on the top floor of an old, cliffside mansion overlooking Lyme Bay and set about turning it into a studio. The brooding seas and lush woodland of the surrounding countryside fed his temperament and deepened his researches into the essential qualities of his creative project. For a while he experimented with abstract techniques, reveling in the pure substantiality of paint and the expressive possibilities of texture. He wanted, in his own words to "wed the qualities of classical technique to a contemporary subject matter, and conversely, to treat classical subject matter in a contemporary way, to show its continuing relevance. It was a kind of radical classicism I was seeking."

After four years of immersion, Newley emerged back into the world of commercial portraiture. His emphasis on dramatic effect and his ability to place the subject in an imagined setting that heightened the psychological impact had all emerged and been integrated into a distinctive style. As well as his technical accomplishments he had developed, in playwright Stephen Berkoff�s words, �A vast talent for capturing some indefinable ghost of the personality.�

These developments immediately bore fruit in a number of important commissions, notably his triple portrait of The Morstedt Sisters, three Swedish girls whom he portrayed as a modern psychological version of the three Graces: Sensuality, Intellect and Feeling; and his early masterpiece: Sir Nigel Hawthorne in character as George III (1993). This portrait was chosen by the English National Theatre as the iconic promotional image for its touring production of The Madness of George III, and subsequently graced the cover of Kathleen Riley�s academic study of Sir Nigel�s stage career: Nigel Hawthorne Onstage. The full-length, standing version of this portrait is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Since returning to America in 1994, Newley has painted many important artists: director Oliver Stone (1995), his face contemplative and half in shadow, with splashes of green visible through windows behind him and on his left �reminiscent of the jungle that still haunts him�, Newley says; Billy Wilder (1995), caught with the famous �brain full of razor blades� in momentary repose, his gaze turned sweetly inward; and author and journalist Dominick Dunne (1996), painted during his celebrated coverage of the OJ Simpson Trial. This portrait went on to adorn the cover of Dunne�s acclaimed memoir about the trial, Another City, Not my Own, and achieved widespread exposure all over America.

Recent portraits have included five-time Oscar-winning film composer John Barry (2003), creator of the famous James Bond film theme, and novelist and screenwriter William Goldman (2004), Oscar-winning author of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and Marathon Man.

Newley�s triple portrait of Christopher Reeve (2004) was completed only months before the actor and activist�s death. The central canvas, showing Reeve in his life-supporting wheelchair, is a study of the strange symbiosis of man and machine, and how, in Newley�s words: �The chair is an image both of Reeve�s defeat and his heroic determination.� The closer, more intimate head-and-shoulders portraits expose the core of Reeve�s humanity. Anger, hope and despair wrestle for supremacy in these haunting images.

These three paintings, as well as Newley�s mesmerizing portrait of infamous novelist and polemicist Gore Vidal, are now part of the permanent collection at The National Portrait Gallery In Washington DC at the Smithsonian.

In 2007 Newley produced a contemporary, living portrait of America's greatest citizen and president, Abraham Lincoln, now housed at the Lincoln College Museum, in Lincoln Illinois.

Now based in New York, Newley travels worldwide to meet his commission schedule. While maintaining a successful portrait practice, he continues to explore his protean talent for all areas of painting.


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