Richard Newton, aka Ric Marin, is a californian artist whose art mirrors the social and cultural context of the wild part of U.S.A.
He uses direct media like photographs, videos, and films, in order to show the problems of our contemporary society.
Since the ’70s, Richard started to analize life in L.A. characterized by the domestic violence, punk mood, porn movies, alcoholism, drugs, and Performance Art. The location is really important in his exhibitions. He does performances in strange places, like motel or the ruins of an hotel.
Richard Newton tells Reykjavik Boulevard about the dark side of the American Dream.
How did you start to make art? What do you remember about yourself at the beginning of your career?
My high school education was preparing me for a career in engineering. After my freshman year at the University of California at Irvine, I was offered and accepted a SECRET clearance level job at North American Rockwell. I was helping with the preliminary mathematics on a conceptual strategy to launch missiles from high altitude at terrestrial targets. Meanwhile, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and other anti-war groups were organizing demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. I was drifting away from the applied sciences and beginning to ask myself “Why?” I enrolled in philosophy courses to help reorganize my thought processes.
During my sophomore year at UC Irvine, I attended a basic art class each quarter. As a junior I took a couple of art history classes. As a senior, although I was graduating with a B.A. in philosophy, I was enrolled in a painting and sculpture class each quarter. At this time, I was not thinking of myself as an artist, and certainly not a painter or sculpture. I began turning the assignments into interactive installations (in the classroom), films, and projects that were located elsewhere and could not be brought into the classroom. The artist-teachers at Irvine were easy going and didn’t seem to mind the non-artist’s shenanigans. Perhaps my free interpretation approach would have been less tolerated at another university. UC Irvine was a new school where there seemed to be no rules and that suited me just fine.
I began to think of myself as an artist and was accepted into the graduate MFA program at UC Irvine. I was making films and installations. Sometimes I would accompany my films with live performances, and there was also a progression toward a performative aspect to the installations.
In 1973, Charles C. Hill and I assisted Barbara T. Smith by filming one of her performances. All of the participants were nude and so were Charles and I. It was always amusing to me that somehow the documentarians needed to be nude. In 1974, Nancy Buchanan asked me to dance in her performance, Please Sing Along, at Grandview Gallery (the precursors to the Women’s Building). Once again, I was nude. I was beginning to feel like the go to guy for male performance art nudity. So, it was a natural step to remove my clothes and become part of my own performance art environment.
In 1975, I wanted to instill a large measure of emotional content in I take you to a room in Brawley and we smell onions, where previously my work was more social commentary.
For me this would be a live performance where I embodied three personas, all part of the same whole. This male – female transgender persona would carry through performances in 1976 and 1977. In both “In the Privacy of Your Own Home,” and performances featuring The Former Miss Barstow, I continued to present and explore the nature of male-female duality.
I know that you have a stage name, Ric Marin, that you did not use in your early career. Why did you make this choice? Is Ric Marin your alter-ego?
As early as 1972, I started using variations of my name. Ricardo Newtonia and Rico Newton were the first monikers used. “The Films of Ric Marin,” were shown at Jack Glenn Gallery in 1974. Ric Marin stuck, but along the way, other personas, including Rio, The Great and Glorious Reverend Ric, The Former Miss Barstow, El Rachid, and Watching in the Dark have made appearances in my works.
Over the years and for one reason or another, I, Richard Newton, have exhibited art under an assortment of pseudonyms and adopted personas. As much as this has confounded admirers and detractors as well, I see the use of different names and personas as not that dissimilar to the way in which an actor becomes synonymous with the characters they portray. In fact, the use of pseudonyms is quite prevalent in the arts. All the rappers got a handle, the gamers have an avatar, and M. Duchamp is a Rose by any other name. The playfulness of the mail art era has withered under the efficient glare of Goggle. Of course, most artists are happy to find and stick to one moniker. I have played schizophrenic hopscotch with the alphabet.
There has been a deeper reason for my inability to find a name. “Richard Newton” is not my name. And neither is the name on my birth certificate my real name. I am a man with no name. Stranded on this planet without an identity, I chose to create my own.
Do you think that your art was influenced by L.A. and the californian mood? (Violence, alcoholism and porn stuff were like icons of California during the ’70s…)
For me the violence, alcoholism and porn evident in the 70s culture of California was born in the 1950s. If you see these elements in my work, it is because as a child, I was surrounded by violence, alcoholism and pornography, more commonly called smut in the 50s. I was born in Oakland, California, and lived most of my life in the greater Los Angeles area. I have always felt that I was more from California than the USA. When I am visiting abroad, I am more likely to answer that I am from California, because it gives people a better idea of my political views; that are often not in line with those of the United States of America.
I spent a lot of my youth driving throughout California, from the Mexican border, to the Mojave desert, and around the San Francisco bay area. The California cities, Bakersfield, Barstow and Brawley form a Bermuda triangle where aliens land their spacecraft and people and things disappear, never to be seen again. The capital of this area is Las Vegas, the quintessential American city. I am influenced by the California mood and a creator of California mythology.
Movies have always been important to me. The first film I saw at the cinema was Invaders from Mars, 1953. I was five. For a long time, I had an uneasy feeling about my parents’ whereabouts, and I was convinced that a submarine had buried itself in the backyard. I was eleven when I saw the film again on television. It was then; that I realized my version of reality was from a film I had seen six years earlier.
[youtube width=”100%” height=”100%” autoplay=”false”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ury5b-qtI1Y[/youtube]
The next film I saw at the cinema was Forbidden Planet, 1956. The story of the film was based on The Tempest by Shakespeare. It featured ‘monsters from the id,’ which came to life to act out your anger towards someone or some situation. I also had a lot of bad feelings, and I worried about my id.
In 1959, I saw the great William Castle’s The Tingler. In this film, Vincent Price, a scientist discovers that a creature lives within the vertebrate of every human being. This Tingler feeds and grows on our fears and can only be controlled by our screams. After an autopsy, one of these Tinglers escapes and runs amok in a movie theatre – the one we happened to be sitting in. A seminal work in the history of Performance Art.
How was the L.A. artistic scene during the 70s? And how is it now?
From wild on the streets to exploded in the galleries. The 70s were DIY, do it yourself. Most of the art from the 70s that we consider interesting today, happened in the streets, in an alternative space, at a private home, or in someone’s studio with or without any “audience”, or even at an undisclosed location. In the 80s and 90s, Los Angeles grew up culturally. The Left Coast was recognized as not just a place for wackos, but also a hot bed of ideas. At the same time the art schools were breeding artists like rabbits. The City of Angels has become The City of Artists. We used to have gas stations on every corner. Today, we have more art galleries than gas stations. The beast has been domesticated and gentrified.
Do you think that L.A. can be a good place for an emerging talent? Can you suggest us some artistic places to keep an eye on in L.A.? Some places to avoid?
I think Los Angeles is a great place for young artists to work and have their studios. Back in days of yore, art came from centers and made its way to the marketplace. Today, the world is full of places with emerging talent. I could not tell you what we will look back on in 40 years. “Emerging talent”, is such a loaded term. But for sure there are a lot of good artists in Los Angeles.
The nature of the sprawl that we call Los Angeles, is that as soon as you think you know were to go, you are lost. Our world that is defined by celebrity, red carpets, velvet ropes, The List, and Andy Warhol’s 15 minute dictum, is at work in the revolving party that is the Los Angeles art scene. The places to keep an eye on, may have moved by the time you buy your ticket to L.A. Really, we have cars here because you have to be out all of the time and go everywhere. If I tell you to go to Culver City, you’ll see a lot of okay and good, and maybe a wow. If I tell you to go to East Los Angeles, you won’t find anything, and then you’ll see it and say whoa. The most consistent thing to avoid is art happening at the Convention Center. Unless you own a chain of hotels or fancy motels.
Have you ever been to Iceland? What do you think about that artistic scene? In case that you have not been there, what do you think about the European artistic scene?
I have not been to Iceland. However, I practiced Rope Yoga with Gudni Gunnarsson who was living in Los Angeles for a while and has since moved back to Iceland. He teaches a physical practice that is mindful. I can feel that ideas are free to grow in Iceland, because like Los Angeles, it benefits from its geographical isolation. What impresses me most about the European art scene, is that as a visitor used to the distance from L.A. to N.Y.C., you can easily travel from East London, to Rotterdam, to Kassel, to Berlin, to Turin, and find yourself in Venice. And this is travel through many worlds. For me, Europe may be one word, but it is not one place. I feel the French are burdened by their past. Paris is a museum full of art and relics from the past. I think the Italians have more consistently embraced their past and reinvented their present. I haven’t been to Moscow or Eastern Europe. I need to feel the art happening there and get myself to Reykjavik.
Now you are involved in the event called Young Turks where filmmakers screen documentaries about the urban ordinary life in L.A. Can you tell us something more about this project?
In the 70s, a number of artists, myself included, moved into the abandoned warehouses, office buildings and hotel rooms in downtown Los Angeles. Most of us did not know each other previously. We discovered each other living amongst the homeless, the winos, hookers, heroin addicts and the blaring sounds of Jose Feliciano singing “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas”. We began to organize exhibitions, parties and music in storefronts and lofts. For a brief moment, there was a cultural situation in an otherwise desolate part of the city. In the late 70s, Stephen Seemayer began shooting film of the life on the streets and in the lofts. The film was edited into a rough cut in 1981, but was only shown twice. Fast forward to 2011 when the Getty organized Pacific Standard Time took a long look at art in Los Angeles from 1945 to 1980. Perhaps because the artist organized scene in the seventies wasn’t institutionalized, Pacific Standard Time did not really acknowledge that it happened. This motivated Seemayer to revisit his film and the footage still sitting in his garage. Pamela Wilson re-edited the footage to create a portrait of downtown Los Angeles and some of the artists who lived there in the 1970s. I say “some,” because Seemayer wasn’t taking the position of curator. He was just shooting film of his artist friends and what was happening where he was hanging out.
My part in the film is captured by Richard Guzman, writing for the Downtown News, February 4, 2013.
“The film also foreshadows the changes that would eventually come to Downtown. It laments the gentrification that the artists predict would arrive in the future. That comes into play in footage of performance artist Richard Newton. In Young Turks, he gives a satirical tour of the yet-to-open Museum of Contemporary Art. He predicts all the things that will follow the facility, among them hip bars, nice shops, clothing stores and quality oriented art galleries.”
All of this prognostication 30 years ago. I also make an off-the-cuff remark that you, the viewer, might visit the museum if it is open. Ironically, MOCA has struggled to keep its doors open in the past few years.
Richard just another question, a personal curiosity. I think that it is very important to put in contact people with art, especially with contemporary art, since when they are child. How would you explain your art to a kid? Do you have a personal experience?
Let me start with some personal experiences, and maybe it will come to me, how I would explain my art to a kid. In 2009 I installed a series of 3 tableaux in a public park. “Seek no evil, Fear no evil, Be no evil”, is equal parts proverb, tarot inspired, fairy tale, and political statement.
The park was open to hikers, bikers, horse riding, families out for a weekend together, as well as art lovers who were aware of the installation. What I did not anticipate was the immediate response of the children, who felt free to touch and interact with the tableaux. The other surprising aspect was how each tableau became a talking point for parent and child to discuss morality and social issues.
When my daughter, Scarlett Rouge, was 6, I started to include her in my films and theatre productions. Later, after she graduated from Cal Arts, we collaborated on some performance art pieces and she has participated as a performer in other pieces.
I think there is an innocence in my art that makes it easy for children to approach. I was an abused and abandoned child. I do not know my mother or father and only had limited contact with one of my siblings. I was taken in (not adopted), and later pushed out. A lot of what I do is “adult” material. Sometimes, I see children looking past these elements to see just what they can understand or “see.” I believe they feel my inner child. Here’s a video link to a recent performance. There is a section on the clip where a 2 year old becomes part of the show.
A man without a name who personifies the general condition of the human being. Simply… Call this man an artist.
Thank you Richard.
By: Carolina Gestri