NEW PAINTINGS by PAUL NEWCOMBE
JACKMAN GALLERY
10 – 22 JUNE 2009

"Since every colour can be shaded with any other colour, an unlimited variation of shading, within every colour scale is possible. Although a red can be, in itself, bluish, greenish, yellowish, brownish, etc., its actual colour-emanation in the pictorial totality will be the conditioned result of its relationship to all the other colours. Any colour shade within one colour scale can become, at any moment, the bridge to any other colour scale. This leads to an interwoven communion of colour scales over the entire picture surface…” Hans Hoffmann, 1955

The last text written about Newcombe’s work stipulated that “he produces each body of work under strict parameters”, suggesting “that he is interested in something other than the simple aim of making ‘pictures’”.

But it looks as though something has changed…

And then he recently declared that the works in the last exhibition were “the finale of a period that reached a conclusion.”

Keeping his materials to brush, paint and canvas, there is more of Newcombe in this body of work than in those derived from the rigorous, process-based techniques he deployed for many years. Though a few elements remain – the verticality of paint application; the select, reduced palette; the layering and/or staining of colour; controlled texture; and so forth – there is a greater element of improvisation creeping into his work, and while not allowing chance to take over, intuition is becoming more important; his works have become more exploratory, or existential, than exacting.

In 1944 the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: “.. man must create his own essence; it is in throwing himself in to the world, in suffering it, in struggling with it, that – little by little – he defines himself.” Newcombe seems to be approaching this point by reducing structural methodologies and defining a new kind of art by exploring his immediate relationships with colour and composition. At such times, what a painter’s actions can reveal – about themselves and what they can achieve – can take them by surprise.

Proceeding from an inner necessity, the chronological progression of paintings in this exhibition reveals an increasing engagement with formal concerns. His analytical approach to pictorial structure, spatial dynamics, visual tension and technique has enabled a passionate engagement with his mastery of paint application (dripped, painted or stained), composition and his use – or creation – of colour.

And this is where his strength lies. As the colours push into and pull out of pictorial space, the relationships between them – in terms of scale, shade, proportion, texture, and so on – produces the “interwoven communion of colour scales over the entire picture surface…” that Hoffmann describes in the quote above. Essentially, each canvas contains – or produces – its own lyrical composition. But what is marvellous is that closer inspection reveals how some of this was achieved: in spite of his reduced palette, some of his colours are wonderfully complex; multiple layers of a variety of colours create a superbly deep blue, say, or a rich yellow…

Newcombe’s canvases are not a representation but an extension of his mind, in which he almost ‘thinks’ by changing a surface or colour with his brush. Every brushstroke is integral to the finished work as order is made from chaos. But there is always the next work, or series…

Like an unfinished thought, painting is always in process for Newcome. So it will always be his ‘act’ of painting, in the present moment, that will define his style. And as much as I enjoy this work, I am always looking forward to the next series!

© Kirsten Rann, June 2009