Newman on the Block by Robert Enright in Border Crossings Magazine
When Les Newman has a thought, it balloons up. The Winnipeg-based artist has been putty his witty and often sardonic observations about life and art inside thought balloons for a number of years, and he shows no sign of losing any of his buoyancy. The observations are culled from 40 notebooks in which he has recorded snippets from overheard conversations; movies, commercials and an occasional true story from someone’s life. “I’m constantly writing on matchbooks, rolling papers and napkins, in books and on cheques, whatever I happen to have on hand at the time. There a lots of times when I get something that’s really good and I think that even though I don’t have anything to write it down on, I’ll never forget it, Of course, five minutes later it’s gone.”
But what he has been able to get down is an inventory of nagging complaints and attitudes towards contemporary life that combines Barbara Kruger’s verbal encomiums with Ed Ruscha’s visual economies. “Don’t you know I want nothing more than to be nothing without you” states one of pieces in the “Thought Balloons” series; another sidles up to the viewer with, “Psst – it’s not like it’s a problem or anything, it’s just that nothing much matters anymore.” It’s if as Emily Dickinson and jean Paul Sartre were dating and having a wonderfully depressing time.
Newman likes the iconic form of the various calibrations and calculations we use to make sense of our lives, so his “Science drawings,” complete with pie charts and graphs, give us apparently reliable information about the state of our emotions. If you’ve ever wondered how you can graphically represent “yearning” or “jealousy” the Newman’s your man. In a piece called Tragedy he measures the phenomenon of “tragedy becoming comedy / as distance from the viewer increases”; in still another he shows what an anxiety attack looks like when it assumes the form of an erratic and serrated line. This are charmingly bogus charts and measurements, and Newman’s sense of impish play is all over them. Years ago, before he had even set foot in an art gallery, he was “heavily involved in an activist-slanted punk rock community.” In all his pared down, cheeky and irreverent art, he has retained a sense of that early resistance.