One of Brandon Newton’s favorite things to paint on Martha’s Vineyard is the vast nighttime sky. Newton is an Expressionist inspired by both the light and dark sides of the natural world. He loves the darkness and can often be seen painting en plein air at night on Vineyard docks, but he is also inspired by the endless stars spangled above the island. “I love the night sky in Menemsha when it is full of natural light . . . and you are looking up at shooting star, after shooting star,” says Newton.
As a young man in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Newton was inspired by an artist named Clifford Satterwaite, an en plein air painter Newton frequently saw working around Fredericksburg. “I would see him almost every day; you would drive by and see him painting. He is truly a master. His work made me see the world more clearly. That’s what sparked me with the thought that you can really make a living by painting.”
Although he is a young man, Newton and his wife have four children, necessitating the need for a steady income by the talented artist who is fast carving out a name for himself in several art communities on the East Coast. Recently, Newton has been working in Charleston painting sets for a high-profile HBO TV series. But that does not mean he is not thinking about painting on Martha’s Vineyard.
Newton first came to the island after some Fredericksburg art patrons familiar with the Vineyard’s art community saw his work and supported his first visit to the island. “I could have gone anywhere, but I picked the Vineyard and I am really glad I found that little island,” says Newton, noting that living on the Vineyard with his family for a spring and a summer in 2011, “was such a great learning experience.” He hopes to return to the Vineyard in 2016 for an extended stay.
When asked what he loves about the island, Newton says it is hard to choose what inspires him most to paint his luminous, brightly colored, expressive paintings of vibrant Vineyard street scenes, tranquil nighttime harbors, and foggy serene meadows. “That’s so hard to say . . . but I guess the thing I really love is that it is an island that is isolated,” says Newton. “Also, that I can let my kids ride their bicycles to Edgartown alone. You know, people are still hitch-hiking out there!”
Newton says the Vineyard is an en plein air gold mine with endless land and sea choices. “On the island, it is important for a painter not to see just one place,” he says. “I love it there, from Edgartown to Aquinnah. When I first came to the island, I was just on fire with inspiration seeing all those places.”
Still, what really fired Newton up was painting Vineyard night scenes. During his first visit, he painted a street scene of a rainy night for a “wet paint” auction. “The light was reflecting in the rain-covered streets . . . and it was just gorgeous,” says Newton. “My painting had some crazy bidding at that auction. It showed me that I could make a living as an artist. Painting actually took on a whole new meaning for me out on the Vineyard—it really sunk in deep.”
Painting with oil and a palette knife, Newton’s works glow with strong light and expressive sweeps of color, and convey the artist’s emotional connection to the natural world. There are also intriguing dark edges and loneliness in his works. “You know, painting has given me a lot of answers in my life,” says Newton. “Through painting I have learned that without some kind of ugliness, we would not know beauty.” Or as an Expressionist would say, dark nighttime skies will always give way to shooting stars.