China Blog

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dignitaries of the local party, I am very honored to have this opportunity to exhibit my work in China. I would like to thank Mr. Lai Man and Mr. Kung for their enormous generosity in bringing me here and providing me with this beautiful space in which to exhibit my work, and also the many people who have helped to realize the show behind the scenes, from the carpenters who have built the walls and made the frames for my drawings, to Ms. Winnie Ng and Tommy Chen in particular who have handled the administration and smoothed out all the bumps along the way, making this visit so enjoyable for my partner, Sheela, and I.

This is my first visit to China, and it’s difficult to express how impressed I am by my experience of this great country. I feel like I have experienced enough in one week for many months of reflection. What has impressed me is the beauty, power, and scale of your country; the goodness, kindness and generosity of your people, the high level of civic order, and a sense of virtue and good faith that permeates everything. Like many in the West I have heard so much of China and wondered about the reality of life here. I have heard much of its prodigious creativity, its enormous growth and global political influence–but I have known nothing.

Now I have had a chance to immerse myself in its beautiful nature, to visit some of its secret towns and temples, to hear its birds and murmuring brooks–in short, it has spoken to me.    

 I’m so glad that Sheela and I have had this chance to journey from the great city of Shanghai, with its international flavor, into the interior of the country, where we have experienced this smaller city of Taining, which is purely and essentially Chinese. As I have moved through the streets I have seen good cheer everywhere, laughter, optimism; this is truly a city on fire with life and hope, and it is so exciting to come here and share the energy.

When Mr. Lai and Mr. Kung gave me this wonderful opportunity, I wanted to make a selection from my work that would reflect the Chinese sensibility. Much guess work was involved, as I had not yet visited. But now I’m happy to say that I do feel some affinity between the works on display and the Chinese spirit. As you walk around the exhibition, you will see many of my abstract works. In these I am concerned with symmetry and order, while at the same time expressing a vibrant inner life. In each work I seek to find a different way to express harmony between emotion and intellect, sensuality and order–energies which are often in conflict. While this is difficult enough to achieve in one painting, how much more difficult and miraculous is it to achieve in an entire country! For I do feel that there is an ancient intuition in China for a harmony between opposites, a genius for achieving calm without the loss of vital energy.

As a painter working in the abstract medium, I am also continually impressed by the beauty of the Chinese language. Perhaps it is because I don’t understand the meaning of the characters that I can contemplate them on a purely visual level. Each character is a beautiful abstract form in itself, and within each is a density of invention and finesse that I find breathtaking. I would like to think that my Abstract works, with their dense textures and symmetries, their compulsion to combine chaos and order in search of a harmonic unity, in some way approach the sophistication of Chinese calligraphy, or at least pay it due homage!

It is also impossible to contemplate Chinese art and culture without being impressed by the powerful symbolic meaning of the Dragon. This wonderful creature is celebrated everywhere in China as an incarnation of Chi and the optimistic life force. How different is its symbolic role in the West, where the dragon is demonized and feared! Perhaps we are blinded there by a flaw in our ethical thinking that sees everything in black and white, while the Chinese response to ferocious and unbridled passion is not to try and dominate and control it, but to coordinate it to greater effect. Genius!

I think I was wrestling with this problem in western thought and behavior when I created my sequence of works, St George and The Dragon. My culture was telling me to dominate and control the dragon, while my instinct was telling me that I needed him–that I had to merge with him and identify with him to find myself as a creative artist. I think you will see in my selection of these works a remnant of that conflict, for I was not yet fully aware, as I am now, that the dragon is my ally.

Dear friends, I believe that art is the greatest communicator, that the artist has a vital role in any society, to voice the spirit of the people and to finally articulate what they can often only strain towards in their dreams. Art is a force of virtue, it is a way of thinking that is inclusive, unitary–that combines opposites to greater effect. The Scientist will tell us that the rising sun is made of hydrogen and helium in a state of nuclear fission, but the Poet will tell us WHY it is beautiful, why it moves us so deeply with intimations of completion and divinity. In short, Science will tell us the ‘What’ of things; Art will supply the ‘Why’.

In the final section of my exhibition you will find works that express a completeness, an intimation of enlightenment, which for me, is most powerfully realized in the Buddhist religion. The Buddha’s imperturbable ability to accept things as they are, and to improve them not by fighting them, but by finding common cause with them, is a profound lesson we can always learn anew. I hope my presence here today in some small way contributes to that cause.






I have been working with my students on the study of great Masterpieces.  Recently, we looked at Picasso’s, The Dream, a seminal work from his sensual “curvist” period, that shows his young muse, Marie Terese Walter, asleep in an armchair.

It’s not until you break down a great painting and try to recreate it that you realize how profound and mysterious it is, especially a work like The Dream, seemingly so simple on first viewing, but revealing itself, as you penetrate deeper, to be highly complex and maddeningly ingenious.

I gave my young student, Bryan Lai, the task of copying The Dream, which he’d chosen after a review of many of Picasso’s works. I realized as he began sketching and blocking in the colors that this would be more of an interpretation than a strict copy.  Happily, Picasso’s work actively supports and encourages this sort of freedom and exploration.

Even as Bryan began to reconstruct the great painting through his own means, attempting to approximate the original forms and colors, but inevitably discovering through happy accident and personal taste that he was making his own painting—even then the power of the original work came through: its enchantment was born anew under the hand of this eight year old boy.

As he worked, I talked to him about Picasso, about the great man’s habit of working late into the night, about his passionate affairs and powerful personality; about the astronomical prices paid for his work. I could see Bryan’s interest deepening as he worked, proving Picasso’s great adage: “It’s not what you do, it’s who you are that counts.”

Byan has now made his profound contact with Picasso and wants to do more.

It’s incredibly rewarding for me to see children discover an affinity with a great artist. It means that, no matter what profession they pursue in later life–whether it be science, art or business based–they will never forget this first connection with an exciting creator. It could give them the confidence to choose a life path they actively want over one they feel obliged to take. Who knows, tracing those inspired forms, mixing those rapturous colors might enact a sort of inner alchemy of authenticity in them that will guide them throughout their lives… At least I would like to think, pledging myself to teach, not so much Art, as the very spirit of creativity.

I firmly believe that every child, every person, has his or her own “Art Spirit”: a fiery angel or guide that is their true voice, that aids them through the medium of their intuition, that speaks to them in their dreams, that helps them, if they are willing, to make the right choices in life. Waking this Art Spirit, fixing it in the child’s consciousness so that they can visualize it and identify with its needs and desires is the first goal of my teaching.

My work as a teacher energizes me and helps me find my own way as an artist. Proving another adage I’m fond of: “To give is to receive.”

Alexander Newley’s China debut…

First show in China in Taining County

Alexander Newley’s China debut will open on September 20 in Taining County in Sanming City in the Fujian Province. A diverse collection of his works will feature, including self portraiture, abstraction, and the New York cityscape on canvas.

The works of self portraiture, always of pivotal importance in Newley’s painting, will include ‘Boy At A Window’ and ‘Self-Portrait of Myself as a child’.

Boy at a Window


SP With Myself as a Child

Alexander has always moved fluidly between representation and abstract painting:



Prussian Window


A life long fascination with “the shadow side of human nature, where the forgotten treasure lies, the wild, untameable self” is shown in Alexander’s paintings featuring dragons, representing the search for the lost self. This fugitive self is reconciled with the world through art – at which point, Alexander says, a more complete picture of the human being can emerge, along with an enlarged sense of beauty.

Waltzing with the Dragon


G&D bl. dragon drawing 3


A move from Los Angeles to New York City in 2000 inspired a series of works featuring the city, the paintings having an almost prophetic quality in their energy and upheaval regarding 9/11.

Central Park in Winter



City study 2


Other paintings included in this show include striking studies of the human head, weaving together abstract and representational techniques to expose the nerves and veins beneath the skin, “the tree of vitality that is everywhere in life.”

Witness of the World's Disgrace


Large Green Witness


Mr Lai is “proud to present this exhibition of Alexander Newley’s work, an artist who is already leaving his mark on the history of art in our time.”

On The Importance of Effort

Figure at a Cliff's Edge

Struggle, pain, disharmony.
Why are these essential for the creative project?
Or is this just the myth of the tortured artist?
IS it a myth?
Why shouldn’t the artist live in a constant state of harmony?

Because, perhaps, harmony over time becomes banal, uninspiring.
We have to be continually shaken up to remain pure, focused, relevant.
Comfort, ultimately, becomes the devil’s work—
So we have to accept a certain amount of discomfort into our life.
It will come anyway—there’s no keeping it out.
And the oyster that accepts the irritating grit
Around which it makes a pearl, would agree, if it could
That our best creations are a coping strategy—
A way of dealing with emptiness and lack of meaning.

Art tells the truth. It looks our predicament in the face and paints it.
It feels the pain of age and decay moving through the body and dances it out with
A violet defiance;
It hears the cosmic emptiness and silence and
Fills it with a symphony.

“Sometimes I wonder,” said Graham Green,
“How all those who do not write, compose or paint
can escape the madness which is inherent in the human situation.”
Well put.

But we can’t ALL be artists. Or can we?
How many people would really want to be that sensitive, that strained
always on the edge, with no barriers or defenses against what
Is really going on?

Not many. And yet, the art schools are full,
More kids want to be “Creatives” than ever before.
Why? Because it looks cool; it’s stylish? Not at all.
To really go into the creative lifestyle is to lose touch with all that.
You have to find it in a new way. You have to find a new Cool, a new Hip
that nobody ever thought of before. But to find it you have to cross a large dark water,
You have to sail into the unknown and let go of all comfort, all serenity,
all consolation.

What love you have must be kept inside as fuel for the crossing. And therefore
if you do not have a great freight of love from childhood
or from that one teacher who believed in you,
you might well get lost and find yourself washed up with all the
other failed “Creatives”.

And yet to have tried and failed to make the crossing
is better than never having tried at all.
Everyone could learn from at least TRYING
to be an artist, trying to hear their own particular song,
their own particular meaning in the face of the great banality.

As long as the sun is there, we will keep growing towards it.
We will go as far as we can go before gravity gets the better of us,
And in a last gasp of failure and exultation we release our fruits, our pollen,
our message, to the spaces:
Keep trying, for gods sake keep trying…



I have been doing a lot of drawing lately; of the sex worker subjects I am working on in Earls Court; of the Nude; and of myself in the studio.

What impresses me again and again is how difficult drawing is. I have been doing it all my professional life, and yet it still feels like every new drawing is a different way up the mountain—attempting to capture all that is there in reality—which is momentous.

I suppose that is the hump of disappointment we always have to get over in drawing: the overflowing bounty of information our sense of sight is giving us as compared to the tiny amount of that information we are actually managing to impart to the paper. When you think about it: the conversion of this highly complex act of perceiving into the basic motor apparatus of nerves and ligaments and tendons gently flexing the hand, you’re left in awe of the activity itself. Imagine a higher primate producing a likeness of another primate with a charcoal-burnt twig. It would be an earth-shattering event.

So drawing well is really a miraculous act, and when it is happening, you feel it—you feel grace flowing through you as you do when you are dancing and really feeling it. It’s more than that, in fact:—a quiet ecstasy that shouldn’t disturb the act itself—because if you become too self-conscious, the “I am drawing well” voice chimes in and ruins everything. There is effort, there is extreme attention, but there is no straining. That leads to trembling and anxiety, which unsteadies both pencil and perception.

The gift of drawing is selfless. Self-judgment and criticism shut it down. Only by forgetting myself can I truly see the other. I am relaxed, I am enjoying myself, I am letting this activity happen of its own accord. There’s a natural rhythm of observation in tandem with the scratching pencil. The eyes going back-and-forth from distance to near distance–it’s a dance with the Other, the object, the observable, and the brain seems to know it so well, as if drawing is something it has always done, always wanted to do, from time immemorial.

So here’s to the beauty of drawing; the difficulty, the discovery, the simplicity of it. An activity which always leaves me refreshed and energized, and more in touch with being.