Visual Arts Review | Thru Dec. 7 Using oneself as a subject is nothing new in painting; VanGogh did it (one of his most famous paintings is of himself), and the equally complex artist Frida Kahlo became famous for her moody, fantastical self-depictions. Tina Newberry, a present-day artist, paints with as much depth as these past masters, and she employs herself, primarily, as model. Newberry, who attended art school at Indiana University-Bloomington and thus forged a connection here, selects different themes in which to insert herself. This year, in an exhibition entitled My Li"l Army on view now at Ruschman Art Gallery, Newberry plays the part of a soldier - of sorts. A fascination with the Civil War led her to conduct research into figures from that era; these, she has either included in her interior landscapes or cast herself as their stand-in.
"Atop Traveller," by Tina Newberry; the works of Newberry are currently on exhibit at Ruschman Art Gallery.
But artists who paint themselves don"t always do so flatteringly, Telene Edington, associate gallery director, points out. "She"s actually very attractive," Edington adds, noting that Newberry"s self-portraits are not necessarily unflattering, but instead are caricature-like resemblances. Is this how the artist sees herself, or isn"t this the point? Perhaps, instead, the artist is exploring something other than self, and simply uses herself as the model to explore an artistic path that is not necessarily about self-discovery. Maybe, though, Newberry is doing both things at once. Newberry"s expression in these paintings, almost without exception, is at once deadpan and subtly horrified. Her hair is tightly coiled above both ears, with loose hairs escaping as if to suggest she can"t quite contain Ö something. She looks traumatized, and yet there"s a banality to her poses that suggests being drawn into something she doesn"t quite understand. One gets the sense Newberry never leaves her studio; in it, she spins a world of fantasy in which she spends countless hours with the brush and palette, projecting onto canvas these manipulated worlds. Indeed, most of her paintings are set in what appears to be her studio: The artist"s tools, brushes, paint and the like are not central to the narrative but they can usually be spotted somewhere in each scene. In "Atop Traveler," a complex and yet somewhat static narrative, Newberry sits atop her studio chair straddling a hobby horse - the kind that consists of a horse"s head on a stick; she is wearing a military jacket (one presumes of Civil War vintage), and appears to be bare from the waist down. On the wall of her studio she has painted a photograph of a general with sword, also of Civil War era, one presumes; and on the other wall is the image of a queen tacked up. There is also an image of a trussed-up lamb - a metaphorical sheep being led to slaughter? Newberry seems to be an observer, depicting herself in these scenes in such a manner as to make her more a bystander than a participant. The longer you look, the more you see. An almost childlike drawing of what looks like George Washington emerges from the background in this, one of her most complex paintings. Newberry"s work is as much about her subject matter as it is about painting. The artist is a fine painter - better than fine, in fact. There is a depth to her realistic painting that recalls the unique and irreplaceable, narrative effectiveness of the medium. She says something with her art, and says it uniquely and well. My Li"l Army, new paintings by Tina Newberry, is on view at Ruschman Art Gallery, 948 N. Alabama St., through Dec. 7. Call 634-3114 or visitwww.ruschmangallery.com
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