A Glimpse into Sean Newport's Op-Art

 

During The Midway Gallery’s first intern-curated show, Contexture, visitors were wowed by San Francisco based artist, Sean Newport’s geometric constructions. His dynamic pieces composed of multiple miniature pyramids hovered somewhere between painting and sculpture. The brightly painted protrusions prompted viewers to walk around the pieces. It wasn’t uncommon to catch visitors with faces pressed against gallery’s walls, determined to observe the peaks from various angles.

Primarily a carpenter, Newport tentatively participated in his first art show at the encouragement of a friend. At the time Newport was on a woodworking job and had several scraps lying around his studio. Uncertain about what to present, he decided to adhere the discarded wood pieces to a board. Once the assemblage was hung on the gallery’s wall, Newport was surprised by the positive reception it received. 

“The responses I got were better than anything else I have ever done,” Newport explained. The encouragement was invigorating and gave him confidence to continue experimenting with his wood scraps. His compositions underwent various stages, evolving into the vibrant, prickly pieces Newport is recognized for today.

Newport has come a long way since he first re-purposed wood scraps. At the time of our visit to his workspace, Newport was winding down from participating in Miami’s Art Basel and preparing for round of art shows in 2016; including the LA Art Show and New York’s Art Week. The buzz of an electric saw loudly cut through the air as Newport walked us through Engine Works, the art warehouse he co-found in 2012. Newport led us past a communal area to a small makeshift room where two of his buddies, Brandon and Nick, were busy cutting wood. Working assembly-line style, the men were building wood panels and frames, as well as prepping shapes to Newport’s specifications. Newport explained that his good fortune of being able to participate in numerous art events this year has made hiring extra help a necessity. 

In the beginning Newport’s pieces consisted of unpainted wood structures with burnt edges creating tonal color differences. He played with various shapes and became increasingly interested in shadows. While searching for a way to accentuate the shadows in his work, Newport applied white paint on the front planes of the individual miniature pieces that made up his compositions. The effect the paint had on alternating the way the work as a whole looked amazed him. From that point forward Newport continued to play with color in his pieces, searching for combinations that magnified light, shadow and contrast.

Eventually Newport chose to focus on the pyramid, which has become a staple of his designs. After some trial and error he developed a mathematic formula to facilitate his art-making. Today it’s his go-to equation, although he enjoys mixing it up every once in a while by changing the patterns. For the 2016 LA Art Show, Newport arranged his pyramids in a curvilinear composition:

Newport continuously makes new discoveries while working with his compositions; which is part of the reason he has decided to focus on the pyramid until he feels the shape has been completely exhausted. Some of these revelations are by chance, as was the case with Newport’s black-light discovery:

Although Newport never intended to have his pieces paired with black-lights, the neon colors and steep slopes of his angular compositions create a mesmerizing display when bathed in black-light. The chance discovery was made while Newport was helping with stage design for rock group, The Growlers, who wanted black-lights incorporated into their show. 

Newport would like it to remain clear that he isn’t a “black-light artist” per-se, but the incident inspired him to one-time publicly exhibit his work under black-light. 

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At the core of Newport’s work is a desire to alter the viewer’s sense of space and visual perception. Through the use of repetition and the manipulation of shape, and color, Newport’s tantalizing compositions challenge the brain’s understanding of what’s being viewed. His pieces underscore the sensation of seeing while creating a mental quandary over what is being seen. Looking at Newport’s work is, for lack of a better word, trippy. It is as if the brain attempts to make sense of the object before it, while said object seemingly changes with every shift of the head and step of the body. 

Entrance to Engine Works, San Francisco, CA

Entrance to Engine Works, San Francisco, CA

 

Photos by: Jacob Abern

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