Daniel Newman’s recent show INTRODUCTION TO FEL-TECH explores arcane systems, what the artist calls that moment when “one looks up the asshole of the Universe or down the rabbit’s hole of synchronicity, paranoia, conspiracy theory, and other general routine weirdness of the cosmic order.” The opening reception for INTRODUCTION TO FEL-TECH was held on September 13 at the CoRK Arts District Studio West in Jacksonville, Florida. A native of Jacksonville, Newman returned to town from his current New York city home for a six-week stay as CoRK’s artist-in-residence. Curated by Aaron Levi Garvey, the exhibition featured a staggering 154 works hung on the gallery’s walls, as well as 70 collages and six books featured on a table in an annex. Newman explains that the word “FEL-TECH,” coined by his friend William Hewson, is a blending of feeling/felt/technology. “It looked, and sounded, like the name of some truly frightening multinational chemical or pest control corporation.”
Newman’s works ranged from the enigmatically sinister to the openly satirical. Twenty-three oil paintings consisted of black fields that, under closer scrutiny, revealed portraits of clowns, palm trees, landscapes, and beastlike faces. Kittens captured the image of two felines visible just below the surface of their suppression. The overall effect of this series was one of detention, imprisoning powerless figures in templates of shadow. Some of the most effective works appeared in a series of a dozen images that placed 1980s-era cartoon characters in dire scenarios. 1152–82 and Orko on the Train Tracks charmed the viewer with humor by combining animation cels of child-oriented drawings with found images of adult passions and dangers. 1152-82 juxtaposed mummies scampering across the faces of a kissing couple; Orko featured the wizard from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe imprisoned in a railroad tunnel, swinging in midair with his arms in manacles, surely to be destroyed by the brutal arrival of some unseen-yet-imminent locomotive. Daniel Newman’s paranoid vision benefited from this playful sensibility, disarming the viewer through levity to convey his belief that “synchronicity, conspiracy, and unexplained [phenomena] are just innate to the human psyche or condition.” One wall was devoted to the series To Be Titled—90 crude portraits that the artist described as “faces in contortion; construction-paper death masks”; the opposing wall displayed 21 similar drawings and collages; the exhibit also featured 21 collaborative experiments with fellow artists James Draper and Max Maynard.
The sheer amount of works offered in FEL-TECH worked against Newman’s goal in the sense that a sustained quality of tone, which certainly could have been possible with greater self-editing, seemed compromised by the impact of quantity. Yet the artist freely admits that his use of various modes—including painting, drawing, and digital printmaking—is itself a kind of work-in-progress. “I would probably describe my relationship to working in countless mediums as a basement scientist with a shaky hand,” Newman said to me.
The works from Daniel Newman’s latest exhibition don’t attempt to decipher these riddles but rather compel the audience to find their own sense of humanity, and even self-narrative, inside this world’s periodic surrounding weirdness. Newman also told me, “Being an artist probably creates more crises and neuroses than it reconciles, but I’m okay with that.”
Daniel A. Brown is a musician and freelance writer currently living in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. A onetime bassist for Royal Trux and ’68 Comeback, Brown is also a former arts and entertainment editor for Folio Weekly.