A collector’s passions
I met artist Jamie Newton in Paris nearly 10 years ago when he and his wife came to explore the city’s junk stores and flea markets. From a small town just outside Portland, Oregon, Newton had a voracious appetite for big city ephemera, and we quickly bonded over discarded 19th-century French dictionaries, old children’s toys, and piles of vintage postcards.
Jamie is a natural born collector; he’s an obsessive, and a high-end archivist. His tastes are way more sophisticated than mine, as I learned when I visited his farm in Banks, Oregon, this summer and discovered his well-organized troves–10 years of chopstick papers, yards of notebooks baptized in the world’s rivers, lakes, and oceans, stacks of saucers with each layer redolent of its origin. And hundreds of collages, assemblages, and paintings. Everywhere.
This past year, Jamie Newton has been making ephemeral sculptures, captured solely in photographs which are then uploaded to his Instagram account, concretewheels. His project is a year-long visual poetic diary of constructions created from nature’s golden crumbs.
Newton tramps through fields and forests, hikes along riverbanks, and kneels in the surf to make his earth works. Sticks, leaves, rocks, petals, mud, snow, chestnuts, hawthorn berries, fruit tree stems, and sun shadows all figure in these intimate dramas that act out an almost ancient ritual of man conversing with nature. This summer I watched him up close creating art works from stones and driftwood along the Oregon shore. It was as if here were playing the piano, sounding out a melody in random rocks and ocean-washed dross. And these works were quickly returned to the sea, knocked down by waves, gone.
Newton–a prescient name, I know–rearranges twigs and cobbles to create geometries within greater geometries, or pulls back a blanket of leaves to reveal the man-made line in a parking lot. His is a poetry with humor and precision–a circle of charcoal on a circle of stones; leaf stems arranged into a grid; a monster of sticks and stones rising from the spume on the Oregon shore. The artist uses no tools other than his own hands. The leaves, he notes, “were all crease-folded and carefully torn with my fingernail.”
One of my favorite pieces is the dada handiwork of hungry neighborhood deer who remake Newton’s apple and stick sculptures by gnawing away at them, giving new breath and meaning to gravity and nature’s design.
The “recipe”–no tools, found materials, less than an hour–was put forth by an Australian artist, Shona Wilson, whom Newton found a year ago through the work of another Australian artist, Leonie Barton. “The Australians owe a debt to Goldsworthy, who owes a debt to Long, etc., etc.,” says Newton.
These land works echo many artists who came to prominence in the 1960s–Richard Long, Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, James Turrell. But most of all, Newton indicates, British artist Andy Goldsworthy launched a generation of earth work artists. Goldsworthy famously explained, “I can’t edit the materials I work with. My remit is to work with nature as a whole.”
Newton’s journey is not just to discover design in nature but to idiosyncratically re-design nature into the landscape. He intervenes, he acts, and–in a way–writes, signing his name in shifting sands and rising waters. It is an unusual undertaking, in part because these daily koans and haikus are ephemeral (though encoded in social networks, like Instagram). But the year and the project is winding down. Snows will soon blanket the farm and Newton’s world as the last of these land poems emerges from the canvas of winter.