Robert Newport ‘61
Trades Patients for Paintbrushes
EXPLAINING THE CAREER MOVE that must have raised a few eyebrows in group, Dr. Robert Newport simply states that four or five years before retirement, he "heard the call of the muse"
And what's more, he answered with no regrets.
Determined from an early age to have a career in medicine, this
Whittier chemistry major/biology minor went on to earn his M.D. with a residency in psychiatry. He never wavered from his end goal, accepted no detours, and was quite steadfast in his plan to establish a business built on the craft of "study and observation." for 31 years, Dr. Newport enjoyed a successful and satisfying career.
Until, as he describes it, "something inside began to shift."
While the passion was there, the drive to continue was dissipating. Dr Newport felt the job had become easy, almost automatic, and the challenges few and far between. "analyzing and understanding the human condition still held appeal," he remembers, "but I felt I was at the top of my game. There was nowhere for me to go."
Simultaneous to his career crisis, his personal life took an unanticipated turn. His mother's health was failing, and despite his rocky relationship with her, he found himself relegated to the role of her primary caretaker. So, he plunged into this new responsibility, never thinking it would irrevocably change his life.
Knowing that he needed to find a common ground to make the relationship work, he considered his mother's interests. First and foremost, she was a working artist.
So, the doctor took up painting, trying a lesson or two.
Having never contemplated "the brush" nor having the time to try in years past, he admit s to being astounded at the wealth of feelings he experienced. He was hooked, and being able to share his newfound passion with his mother only sealed his fate.
"It was a pivotal moment in my life, " he recalls, a hint of awe in his voice. "I just had to follow this muse." So, decisively turning his back on psychiatry, Dr. Newport enrolled in Otis College of Art and Design to pursue an artist's life.
"My program at Otis lasted a year-and-a-half, and it made me grow in more ways than I thought possible. And I got to share it all with my mother." he says. "The work I was doing, the conversations we had--she was thrilled."
Along with learning applied technique, his Otis experience gave him the chance to relive his college days after a three-decade sabbatical.
"It was absolutely amazing to be a student again. I was the eldest in the classroom by far, including the professor, I think,” he chuckles. "I found that as a returning student, I was filled with curiosity. I was confident, wanting to ask questions, provoke discussion, and test ideas."
Beyond these formal lessons in mechanics and aesthetics, Dr. Newport acknowledges that certain competencies acquired during his years as a psychiatrist have undoubtedly helped him become a better artist.
"You see, psychiatry is cognitive," he explains, his tenor and manner perceptibly changing as his topic momentarily switches away from art. "Doctors learn to observe, using that knowledge to diagnose patients and determine course of action for treatment. In psychiatry, we are confronted with human drama, and we learn how to look--to objectively consider speech, mannerisms, and body language."
And it is this learned practice of observation that is applicable to art. When approaching the subject for a painting, Dr. Newport now applies his skills in considering shape, hue, and composition.
He prefers to use vivid colors on his canvasses, a penchant that seems to reflect his newfound energy and contentment. His large-scale paintings of Utah and Arizona landscapes abound with subtle blends of brilliant blues, reds, oranges, purples, and greens. Rich, even tangible, in texture, Dr. Newport's works invariably transport the onlooker both visually and emotionally into serene scenes of cool, tranquil canyons with expansive cerulean skies and blazing sun overhead.
Asked about his proclivity for such vibrant color and subject matter that favors nature over humanity, the artists face lights up and his smile stretches wide.
"For years I occupied an office, enclosed behind four walls, focusing solely on the cognitive and emotional life of my patients," he says.
"Now, I'm reveling in a visual feast."
Reflecting on the path he's taken--his early career goals, the belated fork in the road, and his current profession--doctor-turned-artist Newport chalked it up to divine design, or, as he quotes: "How do you make God laugh? You tell him your plans."
"I never imagined I'd become an artist," he muses, "but I'm so glad that I had the opportunity and that I acted on it. And being in school, having a focus again and being a part of an active learning process--it was exhilarating."