Perpetual Motion: Kirk Newman's Frantic Figures Reflect His Artistic Theory of Evolution

By Sherman, Jenny | Art Business News, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Perpetual Motion: Kirk Newman's Frantic Figures Reflect His Artistic Theory of Evolution


Sherman, Jenny, Art Business News


As the tides push and suck at the shores, glaciers gnaw at mountains and rivers scour gaping canyons out of gullies, one sees plain evidence of the earth's state of continual transition. It's a condition from which human beings are not exempt, though on a biological rather than geological scale. Our species has evolved from nomadic hunter/gatherers to agrarian herders, and again from rural farmers to urban entrepreneurs. The constancy of change has brought us iron tools, alphabets, the Industrial Revolution, microwaves and 24-hour banking.

This is heavy stuff, and more in the realm of evolutionists. But it's also very much on the mind of artist Kirk Newman, who depicts the modern human animal amid this persistent change in his prints and bronze sculptures.

"In college, I took way more classes than I needed to in religion and philosophy, and had a big interest in evolution," the forthright, yet modest, 78-year-old Newman said from his home in Kalamazoo, Mich. "I bring that background to the figures that I make. What my work is really about is man on earth at this time in this time frame."

The cultures of the past recorded their reflections of daily life, whether they were figures of Pharaohs strutting across a wall of hieroglyphics or scenes of Russian peasant women sheaving wheat. Newman enters the anthropological record with impatient businessmen rushing to meetings, women speeding pell-mell to appointments and an iconic use of the business suit, briefcase, computer and cell phone.

"Speed is such a huge part of the environment we live in," said Newman, who himself doesn't own a cell phone. "But the greater reality is the speed of change. The figures I make are reflecting that."

These symbols of perpetual motion developed from Newman's own experience in the business world working for a lighter company in the late 1970s. His brief time there was enough for him to learn that industry was not what he wanted to do for a living. But working with the heads of companies also gave him fodder for future artistic projects. "The c.e.o. is a person who cannot show a lot of emotion but gets news that can be good or terrible," Newman said. "He can't jump up and down. But his nerve endings go all over. He's affected totally. That's the thing I want to express in an image."

Before his foray into the business world, Newman studied drawing, printmaking, ceramics and painting at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, and later completed graduate work at the University of Iowa, obtaining degrees in art education and ceramics in 1951. Besides working as an educator at the University of Architecture & Design in Kalamazoo, Mich., and, later, at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, where he was also associate director, Newman was busy setting up foundries in three different communities as well as creating a solid body of artwork. He dabbled in various media and spent an entire summer during the 1960s in Communist-ruled Yugoslavia experimenting with carving marble.

The variety in his professional life has been paralleled by the variety in his artistic output. …

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