By Jim Smith
Earl Newman was back in town last month for events in his honor at Danny’s Deli and Sponto Gallery. Newman has been living in Oregon for the past 35 years, but he has not been forgotten in Venice.
The silk-screen poster artist-extraordinaire was a fixture in Venice from 1960-72. His impact on our community was far more pervasive than just in the art world.
Forty years ago the Free Venice Beachhead was conceived and born in his studio at 1725 W. Washington Blvd. (now Abbot Kinney Blvd.). His studio was also the California and local headquarters of the Peace and Freedom Party, the Free Venice Movement and the state office of the Dr. Benjamin Spock for President campaign. The studio, which Newman designed and built, is still standing. It should be a historical monument. Most of the political activity took place in the little front house, which is also still there.
Newman moved to Venice from Berkeley where for the previous three months he had been camping out on Mt. Diablo. He came to an art show at the Gas House – the original Beat coffee house – in Venice on July 4. While here, he set up an easel in front of the coffee house and began painting. Before long, someone walked by and bought the painting. “I thought that was a good sign,” said Newman.
His first poster was of the Gas House. He and Eric “Big Daddy” Nord, proprietor of the coffee house silk screened the posters on equipment at the Gas House. Newman says he works in silk screen because it is “the quickest, you get the most detail and the best color blends.”
Newman rented a storefront half a block away for $75 a month and named it Gallery Venice. It’s now Small World Books. Newman created a unique flooring for the gallery, sand, which he carried in from the beach in a baby carriage. Newman and his wife made their home in the back of the studio in a loft he built. He parked his car next door in what is now the dining room of the Sidewalk Cafe. His son, Dale, was born in the gallery making him one of the few people to be born in Venice.
After a couple years at Gallery Venice, Newman turned it over to another well-known Venice artist, the late Marv Grayson, and went to Mexico for a few month. When we returned, he opened a new gallery near Dudley Avenue, where he met John and Anna Haag, who owned the Venice West Cafe, another beat hangout.
The Haag’s became leaders of the emerging community and political movement in Venice. When Newman ended up on West Washington Blvd., he invited John Haag, Jane Gordon and Rick Davidson to set up shop in the front house. Meanwhile, Newman produced multiple posters for Peace and Freedom, and against the Vietnam war.
But it was another interest of Newman’s, jazz, that became a life-long art pursuit. He made a connection through friends in 1962 with the producers of the Monterey Jazz Festival. That connection continues 46 years later with Newman still cranking out new posters for the annual festival.
Like many Venetians in the 1970s, Newman headed for the forests and fields of the Pacific Northwest. In his case, it was Summit, Oregon, a “town” of 200 people spread over five miles.
Newman, who is now 78 years old and shows no sign of retiring, likens art to a companion – a comfort, something you can do alone. “The older I get, the more thankful I am for this companionship.”
Newman is also thankful for the time he spent here: “Venice has been very, very good to me. It’s the land of opportunity. People come from all over the world looking for a new beginning. I believe there’s a new awakening coming because of the economy.”
Looking back, Earl Newman says of his life in Venice: “I’d do it all over again.”
Examples of Earl Newman’s art can be seen at www.earlnewmanprints.com.
Earl Newman’s first poster: The Gas House, the original Beat coffee house in Venice. A limited number of the copies are available for $100 each. A portion of the sales will be donated to the Beachhead.
This is a one-time chance to have an art treasure of old Venice. Contact Earl Newman at www.earlnewmanprints.com or send your check (mention the Beachhead for this special offer) to 20346 Hoskins Rd, Blodgett, OR 97326
Phone & Fax – (541) 456-2131.