Sitting across the room from me is artist Rowan Newton. Unassuming and subtle, he leans forward hugging his sides eyeing the room with almost caveman suspicion.
I look at him with the same level of intuition, knowing full well that Newton is an artist of intelligence, creativity and vibrancy. His portraits are ironically basic yet vivid and original – much alike the man himself. The modern presumption of being a creative is someone whose basic orientation and logic is nulled by the constant forward-thinking of whatever their subject is. Newton is someone who not only exemplifies this beautifully but defies this also. A forward thinker no-doubt, a deep and intricate creative thinker but a logical thinker. Newton is someone who is absolutely aware of himself, aware of his situation and aware of what he is trying to achieve through his art – and that is the rare quality I found in him.
Raised by a protective single mother, Newton naturally found art was a part of him from an early age. “I was in the house alone a lot, so I just drew in my time. I grew up during 80s/90s Brixton, so it was strongly influenced by hip-hop and spray paint graffiti – and I was massively into comics”. So much so that by the time he was at primary school he dared anyone to draw better than him. It was clearly this continuous desire for improvement and natural arrogance that was to be Newton’s biggest asset. From primary school, he continued on through to secondary school constantly building on his own reputation and moving through his own creative education. “My artwork always used to get stolen off the boards in secondary school so I saw that as a good sign”, he remembers absently. However despite the early rebel moxie of Newton, his development and progression as an artist stuttered and stalled as he failed to find his own identity and style – something that he concedes he was too cocky to understand at the time, “I was told to loosen up but I didn’t understand any of that. I thought I knew it all”.
It wasn’t until he moved into an empty flat with 5 canvases in hand that he finally unlocked his much heralded style. “By foundation I had learnt what everyone had meant by loosening up. I was creating paintings that were still really illustrative” he reminisces obviously, typically blasé. He describes his style as basic and easy; using colours we all use as primary schoolchildren demonstrating that his style is in-fact nothing special, meanwhile knowing that it is very special indeed – it is this subtle assuredness that makes Newton such an intriguing personality.
Following on from his eureka moment Newton continued to paint, hired an agent, continuously sold-out any exhibition his work was featured in, dropped his agent, and began marketing himself for the following 5 years, “I never felt I was stalling or stagnating. It’s always been an upward trajectory but when I started doing all this stuff myself, I really went for it”. It was through these years that Newton’s outlook on success began evolving. He insists that there is more than enough time for anyone to pursue what they want and be a success at it – the trick is just doing it. No great surprise there but yet in his theory there is absolute sense and absurd obviousness, “I went to New York for 3 months last year and this emphasised everything to me. I noticed the person who was willing to take the job standing in the aisle, or open the door, or man the tills, and moan about how little they get paid are willing to take those jobs and take that little money. There are only few of us who are willing to say – I’m going to draw a colourful face and you’re going to buy it – because everyone’s actually willing to follow and very few people are willing to lead”. There is no grey area with Newton; everything is in poignant black and white and it is this hardcore observational style that makes Newton unlike most artists out there.
When our conversation moved to his future style and intention, Newton once again flexed his wit and intellect telling me about his understanding of modern advertisement, use of colour and the gaze of the viewer, “You have 10 seconds to get their attention. It’s all around you, Nike has numerous amounts of colours in their campaigns – it’s nothing new. I read about all that side of things. What emotion you should feel from this or how that makes you feel inside. You’re manipulating the viewer all the time”. Once more, intrigued, I press Newton further asking whether this contrives the art that he creates – he replied, “the best thing you can have is knowledge and experience and being aware of how that empowers you”. This, I couldn’t argue with. As he continued on I looked at the raw vivid emotion in his work and with each colour around his subject’s eyes, mouth and hair, feelings stirred behind my gaze.
Understanding trends and understanding what people want – there is no crime in that. Newton, does understand but more than anything he understands himself, his talent and his ambitions which can be painfully lacking in other artists. Recollecting his moment of enlightenment he told us, “When you discover the awareness of what you have is actually more than what other people have, then you learn how to work it and use it and be confident with it”. But what I found so inspirational with Newton wasn’t his attitude or ability; it was more in his outlook on success and sacrifice. He understands the grind and shortcomings that ultimately lead to success, and he is more than happy to adhere to these structures. For the rest of the year he has art-fairs and exhibitions lined up as he looks to expand his work beyond portraits – giving them a more epic feel.
Newton’s demeanour is so matter-of-fact yet so insightful, and so introverted yet so assured. Essentially, he is someone majorly talented with a strong notion of where he sees his art moving to and an even stronger notion of how to get it there. In-reality, when he paints he is just a kid again trying to be the best in the class and turn the most heads – as Newton surmises best himself – “What I like most about art is, to a certain extent, you’re constantly just showing off. And I enjoy that”. It seems showing off is in his nature, but seemingly so as is succeeding…