Newell’s visual language draws on his own lived experience, as well as a myriad of references from art history, mysticism, alchemy and psychology, resulting in a personal mythology populated by an amalgamation of symbols and avatars. Anchored around a semi-autobiographical protagonist, the works in this exhibition contribute to Newell’s exploration into the multivalent facets of the ‘self’, revealing a cyclical journey into past, present and future lives.
Traversing time and space, the mutable image of the exhibition’s central figure appears throughout taking on a variety of forms and identities, both bodily and spiritual. In the miniatures and charcoal drawings we see stoic portraits of this character as an archetypal warrior or mystic, accompanied by a circular form evoking a sun with rays. This solar symbol is present in many of the works, acting as a window into the ‘self’ or gateway into other selves. In Memory Palace, a large scale diptych we see this shape surrounded by floating faces recalling Japanese Kabuki masks which appear in varying states of focus, alluding to the ‘persona’ or mask we present to society and our inner ‘shadow’ formed of repressed desires and animalistic instincts.
Newell’s interest in the multiple aspects of the ‘self’ or the existence of many selves is rooted in his study of Buddhism, tarot cards and the archetypal psychology developed by Carl Jung. Inspired by the universal dualities central to these subjects of interest, Newell’s main characters are often portrayed as the archetypal hero or anti-hero, yin and yang. In Chamber of Reflections they can be seen shrouded in both light and dark at the foot of the canvas, studying an ephemeral scene of archers practising the Ancient Japanese tradition of Kyudo, literally meaning ‘way of the bow’.
Considered a discipline that will lead to moral and spiritual advancement, Kyudo is central to Newell’s conception of the epic at hand, which sees its protagonist face a series of external and internal battles as they seek self-realization or enlightenment. This ritualistic practice, alongside many of the inspirations behind and concepts explored within his work, also links to Newell’s process of creation which engages practices of mindfulness and seated meditation to achieve ‘single-pointed concentration’––a level of focus that allows the materials or tools to work through him leading to a heightened awareness of the nuances in texture, colour, tone and light.
There is visual coherence to the overall group of works on view, both in their similar palettes and tones utilising underpainting techniques of the Venetian Renaissance, as well as in recurring characters and motifs, the striking use of light and illusory treatment of scale which often defies perspective alluding to different time zones or planes of existence. Ruminating on concepts of rebirth, karma, morality, and the act of storytelling itself, Newell’s work becomes a strategy of fantastical autobiography and a unique way of seeing––looking closely at both the external world and deeply within oneself.
Christian Quin Newell (b. 1991, Latisana, Italy) lives and works in London, UK. He holds a BA from Camberwell College of Arts, London, UK. Recent exhibitions include APOTHEOSIS, WT Foundation, Kyiv, Ukraine (2021) and 100 Drawings from Now, The Drawing Center, New York, USA (2020). He completed an invitational residency at the WT Foundation, Kyiv, Ukraine at the beginning of the year and was the artist in residence at The Fores Project, London, UK, May 2021.