I first met Bruce New in 2015 at “A Day in the Country,” an annual Morehead, KY art fair where Kentucky folk artists can show and sell. In addition to the 2D collages he is most known for, New had globes and even a guitar decorated with his familiar artistic style. We admired each other’s work, so in exchange for a bottle, my signature creation, featuring New and his wife, Robin, he gave me one of his framed pieces. As a longtime admirer of his work and the work of fellow Kentucky artists in general, I wanted to see in person how New makes his collages, so I visited his home in Richmond, KY.
Upon entering New’s typical suburban ranch home, it was difficult to tell that this was an artist’s home. Not until you enter a spare bedroom, which New has transformed into a dedicated studio, do you see any traces of an artist. Many of his completed works are hanging on the wall opposite the door. New’s work contains two properties that I like to see in art: time and thought. Looking at his work, you see the precision and detail that suggests that the piece was not executed in a short time period. One also feels that the artist did not just pick random images to portray and that the images have meaning to New.
New was born in Somerset, KY in 1970. His father worked at a local manufacturing plant and his mother was a beautician. He states that he had a “pretty typical middle class” upbringing. New dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and held a variety of jobs for several years afterwards. New’s interest in art began as a child, when he would draw mostly war and sports scenes. Later in life, an on the job injury pushed New to begin to make art full time. While his early work was focused on painting, he experimented with nearly any material he could find. What began as drawing on found materials and assemblage pieces eventually evolved into the drawings and collages that he uses to document his existence today.
To make his collages, New first draws and cuts out the images that he is going to use in his work. He then adds details to the images, whether they are horses, birds or Easter Island-like heads. He then arranges the figures on paper and glues them in place. Further details are then drawn in to finish the work. New is an avid reader and uses cut out portions of pages of books in his art. He likes the aged patina they have obtained over time. New’s use of color in his composition has changed over time. In his earliest collage work, there was little color other than the aged paper and lines in black ink. He then started incorporating a mixture of yellow, green, red and blue in his collages. In his more recent work the majority of the pieces exhibit many of these colors within one composition.
When observing New’s artwork, one sees reoccurring symbols. Often numbers that represent his and his wife’s Robin’s birth year are found, as well as birds and horses that symbolize Robin and their Kentucky home. Letters that represent her first name (R) are often used as well as iconic symbols such as anchors and skulls. In New’s own words, the anchor symbolizes being connected, grounded, tied to something beyond ourselves. These, along with stylized busts that resemble Easter Island statues, connect the world to the ancient, native cultures that New is rooted in. New’s work gives the viewer the sense that there is a secret code or a message that one is not privy to. It is like looking at pictures that appear as hieroglyphs.
Robin, who is an art teacher at a Richmond high school, is the central figure in New’s work. In a review of his show at a gallery in Texas, a Houston newspaper described Robin as New’s muse, the supreme deity of his vision. She is of Cherokee descent, therefore along with the letter “R” of her first name, birds (Robins) and totems reminiscent of her heritage both become included in New’s work. New and Robin have been married for 20 years. He says that marrying her was the best decision he ever made.
A recent article about New’s work was featured in Raw Vision issue #77, including the cover photo. His work was also featured in Margaret Day Allen’s book “When The Spirit Speaks”. He has displayed his work at many US galleries. A show of New’s work has recently ended in Tokyo, and an upcoming show is scheduled for this Spring in Berlin.