Oklahoma Contemporary
Nature's Course: Learning Gallery
A group of people stand in the Learning Gallery facing the salon wall. Several framed drawings and pictures in varying sizes are hung on a wall with purple, red and yellow tulips towering behind and red circles floating above.

New Light

June 15, 2022

Nature's Course Layers: The Learning Gallery

Moving parts, the next 100 years and musical inspiration

Oklahoma-raised, New York-based painter John Newsom gestures to the glass display case in the Nature’s Course Learning Gallery, displaying Fly International Luxurious Art, the sixth studio album from the Wu-Tang Family’s Raekwon.

“’I’m so happy it is presented here in the Learning Gallery,” Newsom tells Uncovering Oklahoma. “It’s the Learning Gallery. You’re learning about the work in the Main Gallery, but you’re learning about the thought process and the experiences that ultimately became those paintings. And it happens in layers.”

It is a wide shot of the Learning Gallery. On the left, a collage wall of photos backed by bright red circles. On the right, a salon wall of framed paintings and pictures of varying sizes. Straight ahead, a mural of a bison facing forward on a blue wall
Nature's Course: Learning Gallery

And the Learning Gallery does just that – from wall to wall, Newsom’s journey is on display. A salon wall of assorted works greets visitors, a collection of drawings, paintings and awards from Newsom’s early youth to his arrival in New York. A large bird and geometric shapes in crayon cover the first framed piece, a parallel to the massive canvases around the corner in the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery. As the artist says, “This is the blueprint” — his now-signature style first seen in the drawing by a 3-year-old Newsom.

Below hangs a work titled America’s Future in the Next 100 Years, winged beasts and colorful creatures filling the page.

“It was an assignment given to us when I was in second grade,” Newsom says in the video. “The whole school had an art competition to draw your version of what you felt America’s future in next hundred years would be. This is mine. There was a student next to me who completely lost interest in the assignment, walked off from his desk. I remember taking his drawing and finishing his drawing. We all handed them in – this was grades one through six – and this drawing, my drawing, got third place. The drawing of the student who was disinterested and left, whose drawing I finished, got first place!”

A drawing in a black frame hangs on the wall. Kid-like characters are drawn, some look like dinosaurs, some flying beasts, in bright purples and reds and greens.
John Newsom's America's Future in the Next 100 Years

From grade-school honors to awards from the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum in 1987, the collage wall spans Newsom’s experimentation through still-life captures, photorealistic depictions, “surreal and dreamlike” color composition, a Van Halen concert drawing and his emerging signature Abstract Expressionist style.

“It’s so interesting to see the cross references that have happened through time in terms of subject matter,” Newsom says. “The nature has been there; the composition has been there.”

And if it wasn’t always there, Newsom found ways to uncover it. Along with works through the ages and a photo wall of stops on and supporters in his journey, Newsom’s musical inspiration and connection remain integral to the artist’s practice — they’re highlighted in the Learning Gallery. Graphite drawings of pivotal musicians from the painter’s early life offer insight into the ties between painting and music, and this relationship is further explored through Raekwon’s album.

A glass case sits against a white wall. Inside is a vinyl album and CD with a black background and a golden winged creature. We can see green squares and text on the wall to the right, as well as a kiosk with headphones.
Raekwon's Fly International Luxurious Art (2015)

The rapper had seen Newsom’s paintings and approached the artist with collaboration in mind. A two-week-turned-six-years project not only resulted in an iconic, golden, winged-creature album cover, but a transition in the painter’s subject material, heralding an era of big cats.

“Painting and music have always been intrinsically linked, throughout history,” Newsom tells German painter André Butzer in the catalog that will accompany the exhibition. “With music, there is complete abandonment, full immersion, and this is an organic physical quality of painting as well. It’s organic and spatial; it activates your sensory perception. It’s literally existing through your ears and eyes when you perceive painting and music. They go together.”

A kiosk station set up with an iPad and headphones linked to curated playlists lives next to the iconic album. Visitors and staff are able to add songs and playlists linked to a work on view in the Main Gallery, another dimension of his creative process.

A royal blue standing frame with hinged blue panels open reveal a spotted leopard with blue eyes in center, scissortails forming an arch above, and to the left orange and yellow hues, red roses in the bottom corner, a moon against a dark sky and an owl
An interactive look at John Newsom's Homecoming (2021)

Interactive components don’t end here — the stoic gaze of Homecoming’s bison pulls and immerses you in the Learning Gallery. With a quick flick of the wrist, the bison’s brown eyes transform into ice blue, belonging to Next Generation’s main character. On hinges, panels swing open and closed to reveal hidden flora, fauna and views, all pieces layered from his works on display in the Main Gallery.

“You open up other windows of shapes and objects within the paintings to reveal these windows of varied motifs and arrangements,” Newsom says. “And you know what? There really is an aspect of puzzle-like placement in the works, whether it’s figures or grounds or varying marks.”

“It’s almost like dichotomy of night and day. … Painting a rose is no easy task; it’s a tall order. Painting a sunflower is absolutely illuminating. It is like painting a sun.”

A group of adults sit at a table art-making in the Learnign Gallery. We can see the tv behind them with John Newsom's documentary playing. Below the TV is a yellow shelf filled with books.
Art-making at the collage station

While the Learning Gallery offers a glimpse into Newsom’s world, it also functions as an opportunity for artistic exploration. Through the library filled with guidance and inspiration, visitors can learn and practice specific styles — or they can take their freshly gained knowledge and try their hand at a Newsom-style piece, illustrating wild animals and finishing the piece off with collage-like geometric shapes. This interactive project acts as a moment to gain physical access to the Oklahoma-raised artist’s practice, taking lessons from both the Main Gallery and this one and putting them to work through art-making. A collage wall proudly displays visitor works.

Grab fam and friends and explore the Learning Gallery, a window into the soul of Nature’s Course.


John Newsom and friends explore the salon wall in the Nature's Course: Learning Gallery. Photo: Iasiah G Pickens.

John Newsom's Nature's Course: Learning Gallery.

John Newsom's America's Future in the Next 100 Years.

Raekwon, Fly International Luxurious Art, 2015. Original artwork by John Newsom. Graphic layout by Eric Wiley.

An interactive look at John Newsom's Homecoming (2021).

Visitors make at the collage station. Photo: Iasiah G Pickens.

Nature's Course: Learning Gallery with John Newsom. Video: Dennis Spielman.

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Learning Gallery Nature's Course interactive art collage music create

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