Artist Statements & Critical Texts


‘It’s not the End of the World’

Paul Newman’s current body of work, English Gothic, combines 18th – 21st century motifs including, historical landscape painting, architecture, classic monsters of movies such as the Fly and Frankenstein, and even the Ford Escort van.

With sources ranging from artist books and postcards, film stills, and urban walking, the series explores shifting architectural markers of progress and dereliction in our landscape, relating to depictions in art history. Stirred into the mix are the various depictions of the monster, developed from a performative thread which in turn taps into memories growing up with horror films and wearing monster masks in front of the mirror. The cocktail of narratives stitched together within the work are open to interpretations, with a tonal sensibility ranging from the melancholy to the absurd.

‘It’s not the end of the world’ is a work that has been developing as a backdrop in the studio for a couple of years. Collage is an important approach, in terms of both collaging ideas and imagery and the physical material generated from studio practice with the accumulation of creative debris such paint residues and general detritus. Influences for the piece include the stormy darkness of paintings by John Constable and perhaps the melodramatic interior worlds depicted by Edgar Allen Poe, such as in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’ The composition is one of a number of versions developed from a series of works called ‘Frank’s Progress’ in which a version of Frankenstein’s monster is wading through, surveying, but never reaching a destination in a shifting and unstable landscape around him.

Statement for ‘It’s not the End of the World’ Birmingham School of Art Gallery October/November 2019


Some notes on English Gothic

Gothic: Of the Type revived from the mid 18th – early 20th centuries. It connects to the tone and sensibility of the work.

The Sackler Room. Some years ago I recall ducking late into the National Gallery out of the rain. I soaked up the atmosphere of the room with 18th-19th c paintings by Stubbs, Gainsborough, Turner and Constable. I was transfixed by the brooding storminess of Constable’s ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’. A couple of years later in my studio and a blank unprimed canvas with nothing specific in mind for it, I  took the postcard I bought of the Constable painting and instinctively started a version of it. I added my own elements, painted a white van in, out, in, out, and eventually stuck a lot of mussel shells on it instead. A very knowledgeable painter told me that they used these shells to mix paints in plein-air painting of the period.

The Ford Escort Van. My father used to drive one in the 1980’s. I recall the excitement of it reversing up the drive on a Friday evening after working away for the week. When I went back to study art again in 2003-4, I recall walking past one on my way home. They were quite rare by then so I took a photograph. It soon crept into my work as a recurring motif. Early incarnations were quite surreal, with inferences to binoculars and a pig snout. I not actually that aesthetically taken by the vehicle, but I always look out for them.

Frank. I think about this character wading through a landscape, or paint scape; a surveyor of it, or moving through it but never reaching a destination.

The Stage. I use acrylic paint, a fast drying medium, perhaps oils would be better. One thing though, I connect with the type of approach to painting stage sets, fast and loose, but detail and perspective where needed. This in turn relates to broader aspects of my work including installation and performance with masked characters. Maybe the paintings could become backdrops for something else. Also the nature of collage used to create some the compositions for the larger paintings makes the figuration and architecture feel aranged like props and protagonists.

Hammer horror. I love my horror film and most of its sub genres. Hammer horrors from the late 1950’s to early 70’s are the most relevant to this body of work. I’m not aiming for horror in these paintings, but something of the melodrama perhaps. Terrance Fisher was the master director. His 50’s -60’s lush technicolor films and opulent set design are a painters tonic. Remastered DVD’s such as Brides of Dracula were a revelation from the faded washed out versions they used to show on TV pre digital age. They compete with the famously gorgeous design of Italian director Mario Bava and American Roger Corman’s Edgar Alan Poe adaptions from the period.

Under the bridge. My wife Nita is an artist, and researching for her community project about the derelict Chances Glass factory in Smethwick we did a number of canal walks there. Part of the route dramatically cuts under the M5. I took loads of photo’s and then I thought I’ve got to have some of this imagery in my painting. Since Birmingham has been brutally erasing an era of 20th century architecture in its city centre – a kind of architectural cleansing, I’ve become more attached and sentimental about it, whereas when I was younger, I quite detached from it, maybe even slightly fearful of it.

Paul Newman 10th January 2018



Paul Newman’s practice evolves from painting; merging with performance, film and photography, collage and installation.

Recurring references include 18th c English landscape painting, classic monsters of the movies such as The Fly and the Ford Escort van. His studio environment influences his imagery; peripheral residues that result from the creative process, such as daubing on the studio wall creep into the finished works. Newman explores the shifts and the relationships between his studio space and the public exhibition space.




Essay By Mona Casey for Stage exhibition catalogue mac  birmingham 2015


Paul Newman – Stage

Paul Newman creates sprawling yet contained worlds, landscapes of fiction, sometimes whimsical and often playful. His worlds make reference to art history, are frequented by autobiographical quotation and are opportunistic in terms of making.  His work explores the push-pull between abstraction, figuration and performance.

Newman’s subject matter and imagery emerge from sources in Art history, from Museums and from Film. In Art history, the tradition of Romanticism in painting, Surrealism, and the theater present in the works of the 20th century, Italian artist and metaphysical painter, De Chirico have impacted on his thinking. British landscape painting, and in particular artists such as Gainsborough and Constable, have had particular resonance and influence on the concepts in the work, but are also influential in terms of imagery and the figure – ground, subject – landscape, relationship.

His work also encompasses, many of the concerns that are related to the taxonomy of the theatre, such as scene staging and set making, whilst adopting elements of theatrical language such as flats, props, arrangement, narrative, performance, gesture and so on.

Paul Newman’s work is entangled in his own personal narrative, and he is sometimes the subject of the work he makes. The paintings, sculptures, installations, drawings, videos, performances are central to a portrait, a version of himself, that makes facets of the work at times so personal. If he does not emerge as physical performer, performing an adopted lumbering characterization, he appears as fragmentary memories encapsulated within repeated motifs that appear in a variety of mediums within the making and the staging of the work. Such motifs as the white van, chair, sugar cubes, teacups, oval mirror etc. are tied into memories and narratives from his own history and experience.  They often re-appear and are re-cycled, slightly altered through the medium, and are part of a language of images that he pulls from.

That is not to say that because the subject of the work contains elements of auto-biography that it is not relevant for us. On the contrary, he presents his subjectivity in a way that relates to the vulnerable, the strangeness, the odd, the beauty and the angst that surrounds us, and is a part of our everyday lives. In some ways what we see is analogous to Oscar Wilde’s, Victorian character Dorian Gray, a character who pursued beauty and sensuousness, and sells his soul, to remain forever young and beautiful, but what is given to us in the exhibition space, is the thing we only see at the end of the story, we get to see the transformed portrait, the thing that holds the flawed self, developed over time.

Shift from the studio to the exhibition space.

The studio is an important part of the process of making. The work is made here, but also the studio becomes the subject. Newman’s studio is a colorful, full, slightly chaotic environment, and it can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between works, where one ends and another one starts. The physical borders and edges of the ‘work’ is something that is continually being contested. Here, potentially all, of the studio is the artwork. Recently in an interview, he stated that “Because my studios space is fairly small and not so practical, for the type of work that I make, everything is in my periphery vision. All the things in the outskirts of the viewpoint come into the work.” Newman’s studio activity and space of making is often supplanted and re-established in the exhibition space. This alludes to the history of re-constituting and re-construction of studio spaces seen in such exhibitions as Paris – New York, curated by Pontus Hulten in the 1970’s, where Mondrian’s New York studio and Gertrude Stein’s salon, were re-staged within the context of the exhibition site; this also recalls the methodical and painstaking archeological cataloguing and reconstruction of Francis Bacons, London studio at The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. But with Newman’s work, his re-construction is something different; not only does he take a slice of the studio, (the wallpaper, the surfaces covered with painterly marks, the remains of where work has been made, the carpet, domestic electrical stuff, other art works and objects) and place it in the gallery; he re-orders and collages components, to create a new, staged and composed version. In the transference, an editing occurs and physical gaps of wall or space are created between works. The distinction and particularity of the ‘studio’ and the ‘gallery’ is vital to the work, as is the distinction between the ‘studio environment’ and the ‘artwork’ that uses the studio as image. In the gallery there is recognition of the artifice of the stage, a nod to the trick of the exhibition format and the audiences experience of viewing art, as staged event. It is here that the metaphor of the conjurer – illusionist – artist gains purchase. The motif of the white gloves, which appear so frequently throughout the work allude to this concept, but Newman sees his conjuring as having failed to a degree, as he is unable to demonstrate the scientific know-how, the skills of the discipline. This is yet, for the reader – viewer to judge.

Figure – Ground impact

Newman deliberates on the staging and composition within his work. This is not a new phenomenon and has emerged historically as a set of Principles, which include perspective, colour, negative space, etc., features used for the organisation of a harmonious composition, whilst taking into account the viewers gaze. These principles from the traditions and history of painting (and also design) have impact here. Within the multi-media drawing, installation and video, there is a conscious attempt to define depth of field, play with the focus and magnification of elements, challenge foreground and background and collapse and squash space. The work experiments with degrees of distance and separation and tends towards the creation of a frontal experience, a clearly delineated ‘on-stage’, ‘off-stage’ area (performed area and viewer position). Space on the stage of the work is created through the positioning of elements – such as two-dimensional cutout drawings, statues, performers or object-props. We are always being made aware of the particularity of the space between things, and how these things are set in relation to a scene, a backdrop and the viewers gaze. Sometimes that space, relationship between figure – ground is reduced and dissolved.

Sometimes the figure is that, (as in such video works The Last Day, 2011  a performer, immersed in the studio environment to such an extent that we are barely aware of the liveness in the stillness and still life of the studio and its production paraphernalia. The surface image of the work, allude to the colour and gestural painted surfaces of artists such as the contemporary British painter Cecily Brown and Dutch abstract expressionist, Willem De Kooning, where depth is given least priority in acknowledgement of the canvas, the materiality of the paint, and the removal of illusory space; but here the paint is objects, textured and coloured stuff.

In other works such as The Circle, 2009 the performer with masked head and hands, salutes space through the repetitious action of reverse walking around a tree in a snowy landscape. The defining of the terrain here is created by footprints trace in the snow, and is reminiscent of Bruce Nauman’s, (USA) late 1960’s / 70’s performances in his studio, where he maps the place of production through a range of methodical movements and repeated actions.

The repercussions of this desire to define space, emerges unambiguously when ‘mirror’ as stuff is used, within the work. Then the viewer is implicated within the consideration of the composition.  In the reflection, the space outside the frame of the work is now in the world of the work. Like Jan Van Eyke’s painting, The Arnolfini Portrait (1434) the painter, unseen in the image, is reflected in the mirror, hung on the distant wall. We too, like the painter, become visible in the world of the work. We are no longer just passive unseen spectators. The devise now used by Newman enables us to observe ourselves in the rear view mirror, where we too can become part of the landscape.

Paul Newman’s work is seductive, and this is reflected in the use of colour, materials, mark making and arrangement. There is an essentially tactile relation to the materials and the process of making the work, which is communicated through this seductiveness. The aesthetics of the work draw on the desires of Romanticism to communicate emotional experience and the personal voice of the artist. The metaphor of the Romantic ‘hero – artist’, creating worlds, is as much about the potential of realisation, as it is about the unrealised, the unattainable, and the failure to realise the vision. In the face of the post-industrial world, the lone character, the lumbering Frankenstein character, continues to seek magic, something wonderful in the creative process.

Mona Casey

July 2015



Foreword by Craig Ashley for Stage exhibition catalogue


Paul Newman is concerned with painting in its broadest sense.  From the raw materials and the tools, to the subject and the technique, through to the act of making a painting in the artist’s studio and its subsequent display in the gallery or in the book, his work explores the processes and residues of a medium that is richly and complexly layered throughout history.

Consisting of drawing and painting, photography, performance and video, and bric-a-brac accumulated in the studio over time, Newman’s palette is almost limitless – constrained only by scale which is relative to the dimensions of his Birmingham-based workspace.  The wide range of media he uses bleeds in a painterly manner, collaged both within his individual works and throughout installations in which one work often sits upon another and in turn another, creating depth and blurring the edges between the picture plane and the space it inhabits.

Well-known examples from European painting, from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries especially, echo and reverberate across his expansive body of work.  Whether through loose interpretations of notable scenes in oil or ink, or through postcards that were bought on visits to museums and then gradually incorporated into his paintings and installations, Newman draws from art history and deploys the selected materials purposefully as a further extension of the medium, treating them like pigment or paint.

Together with carefully chosen and charged motifs – contemporary artefacts such as the teacup, the Ford Escort van and the illusionist’s white gloves – these familiar figurative images recur and repeat, becoming abstracted through the persistent repetition and inducing a sense of déjà vu.  Throughout a practice that has spanned over 10 years to date, Newman has frequently recycled and reintroduced fragments of previous works such as masks, costumes or props. It is a device that enables him to look forward and back, and further reinforces for the viewer the sense of having already seen.

Newman’s Stage – the title of this publication and the exhibition it accompanies – can perhaps be thought of as a metaphor for his artistic practice. It alludes to the artist’s studio, a site of performance, or a set inhabited by his invented characters and their respective narratives. It conveys a sense of liveness and immediacy, influenced by the presence of the spectator and their perspectives and interpretations. And it represents an imaginative space that is both isolated from contemporary realities yet at the same time is able to draw upon them.  For Newman the studio is not purely an apparatus for making the work, and the stage is not only a platform for conveying it; these two arenas converge to form the work itself.

Craig Ashley, 2015

Visual Arts Producer

mac birmingham




Catalogue text for Babelling at Sluice Art Fair in London


Creating a voice within the multi plural languages of many art forms and their histories is a challenge of choice and discovery. ‘Babelling’ is a hybrid of the three art practices of Ian Andrews, David Miller and Paul Newman. Its visual noise is a discordant symphony, a Frankenstein like bolting together of jagged and gestural energy, sugar coated colour schemes and brooding dark matter.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:1-9 New International version

The Tower of Babel and its biblical and historical art reference points is a cornerstone for this work. It is structured into what appears to be a haphazardly precarious tower, with the artist’s work joining together and overlapping, speaking simultaneously and over each other. It nods to the Old Testaments narrative of the workers on the Tower of Babel being transformed into tribes speaking independent languages. An initial confusion of competing and jostling leads into finding a degree of poise and awkward harmony in something that is not complete, that has a potential for change and evolution.

The coming together of the artists involved was instigated by artist / curator David Miller, the director of Terrace art gallery in Birmingham. Housed in the listed Victorian ‘Great Western Arcade’, the first home for Terrace was originally designed as a programme of window installations, set into to the complex and elegant polygon structured window bay of an empty shop unit. In its concept, design and programming, David intentionally blurred the line between artist and curator. His sensibility for the visually dramatic, performative and evocatively sensual has led to a personal selection of artists with which to align, creating an independent island within a sea of revisited conceptualism and minimalism.

During 2012 individual installations by Ian Andrews and Paul Newman at Terrace were part deconstructed slices of artists’ studios, part gallery show, given a new aesthetic imbedded between sheets of glass of the already intricate shop front. The lighting, reflections and refractions added elements of the virtual to already complex physical forms of the artists’ work.

The glass and perspex cased work of Ian Andrews led to the discussion about recreating an essence of the Terrace shop front gallery as a cabinet of curiosities for Sluice. As the idea and prototype installation developed it naturally took on a life of its own, and what evolved was a more organic, and on first appearances, unwieldy structure. A full on cacophony of expression, ‘Babelling’ reflects these artists interests in cubism, surrealism and performance and has led to an unclassifiable work that is much a mixed media drawing as it is a sculpture.  It is embedded with painting and painted surfaces, digital portals and beguiling darkroom photography. Each of the artists is represented as themselves as well being limbs and organs of the whole beast. They have their own voices but are singing from the same cramped page. Within a surface of chaos there is for the viewer an intricate order to interpret and intriguing paths to take.

Paul Newman 2013


Paul’s practice is an exploration of an internalised world through painting, performative installation and photography.  The importance of gesture, surface and the habitual intimacy of the studio space has seen the trimmings and debris from that environment increasingly creep into the imagery and work itself.

Paul’s work is at a cross roads, having moved through cycles of the figurative with imaginary characters, to imagined landscapes exploring a contradictory push pull of pictorial space and abstraction.  The work increasingly oscillates between these areas.

Occasional live performance works explore notions of stillness, repetition and unpredictability. The photographic works can be a document of these, but often the allusion to a performance is fabricated. They depict  the solitary figure set  against, or merging into their surroundings and are concerned with the potential of the photograph as a painting and vice versa.

Of increasing interest is the reference of a specific type of artist’s studio and the mannerisms, privacy and behaviour associated with it.  The notion of a type of squalor purveys, with the sensual tactility of a gestural mark and debris. Conscious not to throw away the residue from the painting process, Paul places equal importance upon it; now becoming part of the painting and the imagery within the work.




Timepiece. A Performance at Vaults Bazaar. Trove @ The Vaults, Jewelry Quarter March 2010

Time Piece is a performance by Paul Newman simulating the movement of a waiter clearing tables. The action is a metaphor for the mechanics of an analogue clock and is an association with ‘a slice of time’, both as shift work and as a durational performance for the length of a show.  The routine is relatively precarious as a rehearsed action with the potential for lapses in concentration due to distraction, boredom and fatigue, generating incident that can disrupt the mechanism of the clock. Its framework explores two components of performance; repetition and unpredictability.



Traveling in the Socorro deserts of New Mexico, an unidentified flying object drifts in to view. “Who’s there?” As this is a holiday destination especially favoured by visitors from other planets, the question seems relevant. However, it turns out that the visitor has only traveled a few thousand miles from the UK, rather than the light years others make to this particular location. But like the scientists and specialists of the extra terrestrial, this visitor is also in the desert to undertake research, to explore other dimensions of the various fictional characters that populate his work.

Paul Newman’s work (performance, painting and installation) involves quasi-human creatures finding themselves in discomforting scenarios. Interior anxieties are played out by placing these creatures (already bearing the evidence of psychological unrest) into an environment where their disquiet is amplified to the stuff of nightmares.

Diana Stephenson 2008




A portfolio of imaginary characters and situations is generated through an ongoing series of drawing, painting and performance based installation.

The characters themselves are hybrid creations influenced by dark fairy tales, classic horror and monster figures such as “The Fly”, as well as the outlandish creations in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and their contrary trappings within Lewis Carroll’s text and its illustrations.

The specific awkwardness of the painting is reinforced through the discordant clashing in the range of surface marks. Yet if the relationship between material and image could in fact be considered a degree arbitrary, there is also an integral connection here with the contrary nature of the work itself. The particular mannerism of the painting is also reflected through the development of the body of work through character performance and installation. Though perhaps stylistically different to the painting, these works and their re presentation as photographic documentation carry the same tone and poise.

The paintings, performances and photographic works explore both similarities and differences in a portrayal of a multiple characters, which could also be identified as a portrait of one.