Oklahoma Contemporary
John Newsom on a ladder working on Nature's Course

New Light

March 16, 2022

Bumbling Bees and Slithering Snakes: An Immersive Experience

Nature’s Course opens March 24, offering views of vividly textured flora and fauna

How do you connect with nature? Where do you go when you need to get back to it? Can you feel the interconnectedness? The harmony? The chaos? John Newsom’s Nature’s Course offers an immersive experience, allowing viewers to traverse through sweeping golden plains, walk through thick and lush jungles and float among the canopies, a way to explore within the walls of a gallery. The exhibition kicks off with an Opening Celebration and an artist talk March 24 and 25.

Spending his free time among flora and fauna in his youth, Newsom pulls inspiration from these memories as they “remain vividly with [him] to do this day,” producing monumental canvases that reel you in, urging the viewer to inhabit them.

Bright yellow bees buzz around a rich honeycomb background and flowers
John Newsom, Summer Swarm, 2002

“I resource motifs for paintings from those early experiences … to bring the past into the present,” the artist says. “I never was so interested in exploring nature in a scientific manner but rather a poetic one.”

From bumbling bees and slithering snakes to charging bison and lurking leopards, Newsom’s 31 large-scale works are a culmination of 20+ years of his career. Though the hyperrealistic animals seemingly stalk your every move, a mix of realism and abstraction pulls you in and out of Newsom’s reality, begging questions of how these creatures exist. Has anyone seen so many eagles in one place? Can we imagine a moment in which they are? How does this shift our perspective on the natural world? What is our role within it?

The praying mantis consumes her mate; birds of prey sit stark against a blood-red background; mice and harvest offer odes to autumnal cyclical demands. Passion, fear, humility —within these emotions, Newsom speaks to viewers, shaping what he wants the audience to experience.

Detail image of pink hyacinths with globs of texture
John Newsom, Sweet Nectar (detail), 2011-13

“Wonderment,” Newsom says. “I hope to inspire wonderment within the viewer, within the audience. So that they leave feeling inspired and open to new possibilities.”

We can easily find these possibilities within the multilayered construction of his pieces. Hummingbirds dip and glide around bright blooms and geometric shapes, but it is not until you confront them, stand in their space and arrive at eye level that you can truly see the work that has gone into the pieces in this mid-career retrospective. Globs, drips and thick brushstrokes of purposefully placed paint create movement within the still, highlighting the thickness of a hyacinth’s stalk or the rough durability of scorpion’s pincers, richly texturizing depth while remaining in 2-D. You almost (almost) want to reach out and touch it, an attempt to convince your brain there’s no way this lemon the size of your head can be real.

Will you feel the velvet petals? Can you smell the citrus? If the arachnid turns toward you, will you stand your ground?

While acting as a homecoming for the New York-based, Oklahoma-raised artist, Nature’s Course not only encourages soaking in its “spiritual light,” as Newsom describes, but also to witness the evolution of the artist’s practice as well. Within the layers of his works, specifically Nature’s Course, the show’s title piece, and Homecoming, we can physically track the mind of the artist, witnessing for ourselves the progression of his signature style. What once might have been robust circles or triangles embellishing the vast blue sky are now soaring examples of freedom.

Artist John Newsom surrounded by large-scale paintings in crates while he works
John Newsom working

“[The new works] represent an advancement in my pictorial methodology,” Newsom says. “In both of those paintings, the geometric shapes which normally make up the structure within the backgrounds of many of the former paintings have evolved to represent actual birds. The eagles and the scissortails are not only representational, but they also function the same way the geometric shapes do, by adding structure and rhythmic patterning to the overall picture-plane.”

“I realize that’s a bit long winded, but it’s a breakthrough in the visual language, and for that, it makes those paintings important beyond their individual impact.”

Nature’s Course launches with an Opening Celebration on Thursday, March 24, an evening filled with food and drink, an exclusive set from NYC DJ Gustavo Guerra and the artist himself.

Bright red background with large monstera leaves and a lone jaguar
John Newsom, Keep Watch, 2020

The following night, Newsom and longtime friend actor/director Matt Dillon will hold an artist talk discussing Newsom’s career, his process and more.

Join us for one of the opening events or reserve your spot to explore Newsom’s paintings in the gallery and across our first floor. Get hands-on and further explore the exhibition in our Learning Gallery (where you can also preview his new short film).

This exhibition is for all, an invitation to see and engage with the natural world in ways you haven’t since childhood … or perhaps never have. Newsom’s works allow viewers to reconnect, challenge and revel. Come one, come all to explore the course of nature with us.


Still shot from short film Nature's Course. Directed by XEVOLVEX. Photo: XEVOLVEX. 

John Newsom, Summer Swarm, 2002. Oil on canvas. 80 x 96 in. Collection of Bruce Stone. © John Newsom. Photo courtesy John Newsom Studio.

John Newsom, Sweet Nectar (detail), 2011-13. Oil on canvas. 78 x 120 in. Private collection. © John Newsom. Photo courtesy John Newsom Studio. 

Still shot from short film Nature's Course. Directed by XEVOLVEX. Photo: XEVOLVEX.

John Newsom, Keep Watch, 2020. Oil on canvas. 108 x 84 in. Private collection. © John Newsom. Photo courtesy John Newsom Studio.

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