Newman was born on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1905.
He grew up in the Bronx, took classes at the Art Students League,
and graduated from City College in 1927. During the 1930s he helped
with his father's clothing manufacturing business and worked as
a substitute art teacher in the public schools. This exhibition
begins with Newman's first surviving drawings, made in 1944 when
he was thirty-nine. The compositions bear suggestions of plant life
or living creatures, reflecting Newman's interest in botany and
ornithology. The themes of creation and fertility were a mirror
for his own situation, as he cautiously reached for the long-delayed
dream of becoming an artist himself. During the next year he continued
to experiment in crayon and watercolor; he also made several ink
drawings in the rapid, improvisational manner of the Surrealists.
Newman's first surviving painting, never titled, features a premonitory
form of the vertical band-the "zip"-that later would define
his signature style. At this time he also explored the motif of
the circle-ripe with cosmic associations-as seen in his first concerted
effort at a masterpiece, Pagan Void.