Backstage at San Francisco Opera > June 2012 > Impressions of Nixon in China: Painted on iPad During the Opera
Impressions of Nixon in China: Painted on iPad During the Opera
An intriguing invitation was posted in this Tweet by SF Opera on May 29, 2012:“Are you an #opera curious power Tweeter? Apply for a Tweet Seat at dress rehearsal of Nixon in China, June 5, 2pm pls RT” When I read the tweet, I had already purchased my ticket to see Nixon in China on opening night. This unexpected invitation inspired me to see if I could use my iPad to capture my experience of Nixon in China and share my impressions with the SF Opera community and the Twitterverse.

As an alumnus of the UC Davis and UC Berkeley art departments in the 70’s, I am currently painting a series iPad Portraits of Innovators in Silicon Valley and beyond. Before that, I painted ink-on-paper portraits at Google, PayPal and NASA beginning in 2006.

My most recent project brings me much closer to SF Opera. I am creating a series of mixed-media images, prints and timelapse videos inspired by the view from my studio window–the year-long-plus construction of the new SFJAZZ Center– [Above: David Newman's painting inspired by Act I of Nixon in China.]

As a former courtroom artist, I have drawn people in action since the mid-70’s. I have painted using computer graphics for thirty years, and participated in virtual communities since the early days of CompuServe and The WeLL.

I knew that the iPad was the right medium for painting and sharing images during the opera. No ink would spill; no pencils, pens or erasers would drop; and no fumes would waft.

When I arrived at the center box, I was welcomed by a friendly group of people prepared to share the experience online in real time. I put my iPad in airplane mode and muted it, and turned its screen to its darkest setting. [Above: David Newman's painting inspired by Act II of Nixon in China]

The opera began. It was breathtaking.  How do you capture sets, characters and projected visuals that are continuously in motion? How do you express music, action, supertitles, meanings and feelings, in visual terms? 

I was reminded of the determination and artistry of one of my mentors, the courtroom and combat artist Howard Brodie, who drew gutsy and accurate sketches of soldiers in World War II and Korean theaters of war. Back at home in the Bay Area, during trials, he wore short black opera glasses connected to his glasses that left his hands free to draw.

Musicians and dancers inspire me. When I paint musicians, I get as close as possible.  I use ink on paper so I can work quickly in monochrome.  During Nixon in China, because of my distance and the continuous changes in characters, actions and sets, I created general impressions in full color that had to be more abstract and symbolic than my usual work. [Above: The montage print of David Newman's paintings presented to San Francisco Opera.]

I didn’t plan to tweet my images until I received permission from SF Opera.  My fellow tweeters asked to photograph the works-in-progress, and I agreed. Photos of my iPad screen showing low-resolution images in the context of the event fit well with the spirit of ephemeral social media sharing. Their tweets, and subsequent retweets, were very generous.

After the rehearsal, I used this project as impetus to assemble for the first time several iPad paintings into a single montage containing additional photos, graphic elements and text. I printed it and presented it as gift to SF Opera. I hope to share it publicly in the future.

It was a memorable experience to see the last dress rehearsal of Nixon in China, meet the Opera’s social media team and my fellow Tweeters, and share impressions of what I heard, saw, and felt during the performance.

I hope that my images may inspire people to come to see the opera, without giving away the history–and mystery–revealed during the performance.
[Above: San Francisco Opera gratefully accepts David Newman's gift!]

David Newman is an American artist living in Hayes Valley documenting innovators in Silicon Valley with fine art portraits painted from life on iPad.

Posted: 6/25/2012 11:38:53 AM by David Newman (artist and Nixon in China Tweeter)
Filed under: 2011-12Season, Adams, design, NixonInChina


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