The wandering camera

A storage unit, a garage, a car, a professor's office and a tent on a campsite.

These are only a few of the 24 Irvine spots where Richard Newton bunked over two years in the early 1970s.

This nomadic life — the yearning to feel out new surroundings — sparks inspiration.

"The seed of my ideas comes from other places and, I suppose, works with my restlessness — I'm always going somewhere," he said. "I have personally found that the most interesting part of life is to be exposed to other people, cultures and places — to somehow step completely out of where you come from and immerse yourself in someone else's world."

Newton, who has off and on for the past decade called Pasadena home, will be at the Laguna Art Museum at 7 p.m. Thursday. The event, titled "Some Poets," is a screening of 11 short films he created between 1969 and 1987.

The museum and UC Irvine — Newton's alma mater — also hosted between 2011 and 2012 "Best Kept Secret," which was part of a regional exhibition called "Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980." The upcoming series traces Newton's life from Laguna Beach in the '70s, to downtown Los Angeles from the mid '70s to late '80s and then to Hollywood, where he lived until the '90s.

"Each place that I lived affected the film I was making, or the films that I was making reflected where I was," Newton explained, adding that the work depicts his progression while adapting to different environments.

A two-minute color movie, "coming into the 'vine," will be up first at the Laguna Art Museum. Newton shot the film in 10 minutes in 1969 on the UCI campus without actors or a script. Like other films he created at the time, this one is silent save for Santana's song "Jingo."

Others in the pipeline are "In Vivo," all 14 minutes and five seconds of which were created at Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach, Point Ferman, San Pedro and USC; "The Artist Landlord," a depiction of Newton's artist friends Chris Burden, Gina Pane, Barbara Smith and Charles Hill relaxing in his loft; and the U.S. debut of "The Weirdos," a vignette of Hollywood musicians including John and Dix Denney, Cliff Roman, Willy Williams and Art Fox of the eponymous band.

Along with the opportunity to interact with the filmmaker, viewers will be regaled with full movies and snippets portraying everything from transvestites to contemporary artist Paul McCarthy reading a poem to chiseled adonises in "Lamy Men."


'More of a gypsy'

While mulling over the source of his wanderlust, Newton points to his turbulent youth.

As the child of parents who split up, he was left with "serial baby sitters," until one day his mother decided not to return at all. Once his relatives got word of his whereabouts, the 5-year-old was handed off to the Newton family, who took him in without a formal adoption and with whom he stayed till he was 18.

Newton, who is now 64, was born in a leap year and claims that this provides a perfectly valid reason to say he's 16.

"I never had a place of my own, so that probably tends to make me more of a gypsy," he said.

Growing up, Newton recalls not questioning the state of his life — he simply did what he was asked to — but that stopped when he got older. Now, hints of being abandoned as a child show up in his work, he said, although subconsciously.

"Just like I move around a lot, I change my name a lot," said Newton, who donned the pseudonym Ric Marin upon embarking on his career as an artist. "So besides the fact that I don't seem to know where I belong, I also actually don't know what my name is. Fortunately, I guess I have art to attach all this stuff to."

Newton started out as an engineering student in college and was tapped to work at North American Rockwell in the summer of 1967. This job coincided with the Vietnam War and street demonstrations.

As an active participant in these protests, Newton was one day struck with the realization that he was "working for the wrong team" by constructing bombs. Drifting from sciences philosophy, he changed his worldview and, in the process, connected with local artists.

Today, 44 years later — a number that causes Newtown to exclaim, "Oh my God!" — he continues to reflect upon society and communicate his thoughts via art.

"Most of my work has some kind of social, personal or political context," he said. "I guess you could easily say that I'm not making art about art — I'm only making art about life."


Art over Walmart

Newton, who likens his "artist films" to the visual representation of a painting or poem, recalls a trip he took last year to Tromsø, Norway, to participate in the 13th International Ibsen Conference. The organizers deviated from a well-defined path of inviting scholars and instead called upon four artists — one each from Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.

While there, Newton's 1987 creation "The Former Miss Barstow with every Tom, Dick, and Harry" — on display at the Laguna Art Museum — won praise as a modern take on Henrik Ibsen's 130-year-old production "A Doll's House."

Discarding and repurposing is a recurring theme in Newton's work that also shows up in the materials he employs. By recycling supplies and even human experiences, he infuses castoffs with "a new life, a new identity and a new home." This rings true in "Yucca Flat," an installation constructed from bread, broken beer bottles and flattened tin cans at New York's former Public School 1, which is now owned by the Museum of Modern Art, as well as "The Grotto" on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

Although married for 22 years, Newton admits that it's hard to maintain an ongoing relationship, not only because artists are more often broke than not, but also because they need a lot of emotional support.

"There are times when it seems like it would be better to be a Walmart greeter, because there would be some sense that there's a practical reason why I would be getting up in the morning and going to that job," said Newton, who said his wife sometimes reveals that she has no idea what he's up to or why.

Luckily, she is a kindred spirit who is on the move as much as he is and is currently in Ethiopia trying to figure out what she wants to do next, he said with a chortle.

Ultimately, Newton's every venture is driven by a desire to communicate.

"What I enjoy the most is when viewers — across a broad spectrum of ages and backgrounds — somehow find something in what I have done to relate to themselves," he said. "I want them to be able to step in and feel something."

If You Go

What: "Some Poets — Short Films from 1969–1987 by Richard Newton"

Where: Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach

When: 7 to 8:45 p.m. Thursday

Cost: Free for museum members, free for nonmembers with museum admission

Information: (949) 494-8971 or

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