The nine works by Linda Newman Boughton that hang as part of Tangled Up in Blue, a group show at Carrie Haddad Gallery with an emphasis on the botanical, are the product of several dozen months of meticulous effort and, at minimum, several dozen ballpoint pens. In her large-scale drawings of forested scenes, Newman Boughton achieves a brilliant tonal range by weaving layer upon layer of fine blue lines. By their lonesome, any of these marks might go unnoticed  — this much is evidenced by the strands at the outskirts of her drawings, which appear like the fraying threads of some elaborate textile — but in concert, Newman Boughton’s mark-making conveys a breadth of human perception that spans the natural and the supernatural.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina and raised in Florida, Newman Boughton was precociously creative, both as a visual artist and as a performer. Hers was a family of artists, and she found early inspiration in the drawings and paintings of her grandmother, who primarily worked in portraiture. “At six, I wasn’t listening to the teacher. I was drawing the people in my class,” she recalled.

 

Newman Boughton would go on to major in theater at Florida State University, but took fine art classes “just to keep my portrait chops going,” she said. On a whim, she enrolled in a fashion illustration course, in which she excelled, prompting her to reconsider her artistic focus. She then relocated to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she earned a degree in fashion illustration.

 

Newman Boughton worked as an illustrator, photographer, and accessories designer in New York for nearly a decade, honing a skill set that would prove instrumental in the years to come. Yet she became progressively disillusioned by the fashion industry and grew to miss the world of entertainment. After volunteering as a scenic artist on her friend’s film project, Newman Boughton rerouted once again, moving to Hollywood to pursue a career as an artist in the film and television industries. Owing to her technical abilities, she was soon leading teams of scenic artists and eventually found a niche creating custom paintings and copies of masterworks for such films as Water for Elephants, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fight Club.

 

The impetus for Newman Boughton’s next transition, from scenic charge to full-time fine artist, was twofold. The arrival of Photoshop torpedoed the job market for art reproductionists, to be sure; but she had gained confidence from her successes in the entertainment industry and wished to develop her own body of work. Drawing from decades of experience across artistic disciplines, she began to paint people — anyone whose likeness compelled her, whether a friend, neighbor or Los Angeles busboy — on massive canvases in her virtuosic manner of realism. 

 

Several years into exploring her fine art practice, Newman Boughton made what is arguably her most pivotal breakthrough — one that started with a psychic dream and ended with her falling in love with an unlikely utensil: the ballpoint pen. The story begins in China, where Newman Boughton accompanied her husband, a production designer, during the filming of The Man with the Iron Fists (2012). One night, she dreamt that she visited an art gallery lined with portraits rendered in a medium she could not identify; nonetheless, Newman Boughton intuitively knew that these were artworks she had created. When she awoke, she sketched an image she had seen in her dream: three men standing beneath a tree. Shortly thereafter, Newman Boughton was passing time on the movie set when she discovered a book about the American Civil War. She flipped through it, awestriken by the portraits therein, when she came upon a photograph of three soldiers standing in the shade of a tree, just as she had seen in her dream.

Once Newman Boughton returned home to Los Angeles, she went to buy art supplies, eager to follow the breadcrumbs on a pathway that led from her subconscious. As she waited on line with a basket full of various media, she happened to notice an endcap stocked with archival-grade ballpoint pens. “I thought, ‘You know, some of my favorite work is when I’m on the phone, doodling in ballpoint pen,’” she said. “I put everything away, I bought beautiful paper, I bought all these pens, and I jumped right off the deep end.”

 

Since that fateful shopping spree, Newman Boughton has remained faithful to the ballpoint pen. Her earliest pen drawings, which portray figures from the Civil War era, culminated in Americana, a group exhibition held at Carrie Haddad Gallery in 2015. When she completed that body of work, Newman Boughton shifted her focus to the landscape, working at first in a style reminiscent of the Dutch masters before effecting a visual language entirely her own.

To create the drawings in her latest series, Newman Boughton begins by taking reference photographs. On walks and drives through the wilderness with her camera in tow, the artist forages for moments of communion between light and nature. “I love taking photographs,” she said. “It’s my therapy, my church, going into the woods.” As with her drawings, these images take trees as their primary muse; however, her process of translating the photographs into drawings is not exactly reproductive. Rather than overwhelming the viewer with a uniform density throughout the picture plane, Newman Boughton isolates particular elements of forestry in negative space. In doing so, she wields greater control over the composition, accentuating the shapes that most succinctly articulate her inner story.

 

This aesthetic choice is particularly well-suited to Newman Boughton’s favored medium. Placed in juxtaposition to the intrinsic nothingness of blank paper, each blue mark becomes an electrically charged filament. In some areas, these lines are concentrated to constitute dimensional forms with light and shadow; here is the drawing’s visual weight, though the denseness registers not as heft but organic vitality. Pure energy emanates from the base of every tree in I Need You (2023), for example, but this energy tapers off as the trunks stretch toward the heavens. Importantly, Newman Boughton drops clues that the trees exist as solid forms even where they are sparsely illustrated, leaving the viewer to project an abstracted meaning onto her omissions. 

In other works, like Yield and Overcome (2023), the balance of positive and negative space is suggestive of human perception. An absence of visual information expands in a radial gradient whose central point is at the top left corner of the drawing, making the viewer feel as though their sight has been compromised by sunlight piercing through the trees. Beyond the glare simulated by this omission, herbage and overgrowth commingle in shades of darkened blue.

 

These graphic and conceptual complexities are the result, though not necessarily the aim, of deep introspection on the part of Newman Boughton. “The drawing has taken me deeper within myself,” she mused. “‘What am I learning?’ I ask the drawings. I wanted their sacred geometry and their essence, their vibrations to come out. I wanted the energy and the love of these plants. I wanted what we can’t see, but what I feel, to be there.”

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