Sculptor Stephen Newton

Sculptor Stephen Newton

Elizabeth Bates

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28th May 2013

A collection of linear wooden structures sit silently on a bleak undulating plain. Deliberately placed in this location by the artist, they mark the landscape defiantly, but are perfectly in tune with their new found environment. The installation is the work of Stephen Newton, a Brisbane (Australian) based sculptor.

Newton’s evolution as an artist is closely connected to the intrinsic energy and beauty found in natural materials. His process is deliberate on many levels. The raw materials he chooses are considered, transformed and relocated to permanent or transitory sites. Some works are confident and monumental in scale while others merely suggest elegant natural forms such as seed pods.

Throughout his 25 year career, wood has been Newton’s constant companion. He is respectfully aware of its connection to the land and the inherent history it offers. Choosing to work in hardwood, some of the hardest in the world, he deliberately forms works to the scale of the original timber to respect and retain its essential life. The material is often found or reclaimed, imbued with the ghosts of a life lived in the natural or human world.

For Newton the making of sculpture has always been about process and change. The techniques he uses in the studio emulate natural changes and are inspired by the processes that nature offers, its multiple rhythms and uncompromising forces. In reference to weathering process found in the natural world, surface and texture are elements of an essential consideration. Blackened velvety exteriors are fashioned, as in nature, with fire, which Newton harnesses and manipulates. However the use of fire is not only about changing vegetable into mineral, but also the positive and negative associations it has for us as humans.

This understanding of the relationship between man and nature is inherent in Newton’s sculptures. Forms stand in humanoid groupings, offer tactile experiences at human scale and the artist is ever present in surfaces deliberately honed by hand. Yet these sculptures also respond to patterns in geology and geography, rising majestically upward in totemic form or quietly settling into the earth.

Newton has worked closely with nature on many occasions to produce site centred works. These works embody a philosophy of returning materials to their natural home with a breath of new life. There are times when he selects the location and others when a place seeks him out. Embedded is a desire for the sculptures to develop a symbiotic relationship with the chosen site and to explore the opportunity for mutual benefit as they gracefully age together.

Publicly commissioned works have been the catalyst for the introduction of new natural materials, such as stone, into Newton’s working processes. Such commissions have also provided the opportunity to explore the relationships between human nature and natural and built environments. Many of these works are totemic in scale, but are meant for human acceptance and interaction. When sited they provide fresh and sometimes surprising readings of landscape, locality and community.

To work wood or stone takes time and each material sets its own pace. For sculptor Stephen Newton it is a grounded activity, very much of the real world.

Elizabeth Bates is a Brisbane based independent cultural program developer. She has worked for many years in the visual arts and museum industry.

(Stephen Newton, sculptor, communes with his work at Caboolture Regional Art Gallery, Queensland, Australia, Photograph Peter Jendra.)

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