Vibrant paintings of exotic animals line the amber walls of Ruby’s Lounge at Clementine Cafe, brightening up the room. A gorilla in eye-catching shades of blue, and a pastel-colored panda gaze down at onlookers from their position on the wall, so lifelike that it’s almost as though they could awaken and spring off their canvases. Although every piece in the exhibit possesses the same abstract concept, each one is unique.
This exhibit, “Animals in Color,” features paintings by Rachel Newman, a junior graphic design major, and will be on display at Clementine Cafe until April 2.
Rachel’s been painting since she was five years old and has always wanted to have an art show. Connections through her cousin, Charlie Newman, helped her land the gig at Clementine. Charlie, a JMU alumnus (‘83) and frequent customer at the restaurant, noticed the artwork being displayed in Clementine and thought he could get Rachel’s work there. He contacted his friend and JMU classmate, Mike Comfort, a manager at Clementine, who in turn set Rachel up with the event coordinator Kim Joyce.
“Animals in Color” is part of the monthly art show series that takes place at Clementine and is coordinated with First Fridays, an event organized by the Arts Council of the Valley.
“We do this to share art with the greater community of Harrisonburg,” Joyce said.
The idea of painting animals for the exhibit came to Rachel after she booked the venue. She wanted to create something that was unique to her exhibit, but also recognizable. With that in mind, she decided to combine the idea of animal paintings with the concept of abstract art.
“A lot of people look over the emotional aspect of abstract art, and I want people who aren’t into art necessarily to enjoy what I’m painting,” Rachel said. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t I combine the two and make these animals unique and colorful?’”
Though all the animals featured in Rachel’s exhibit are different, they’re linked by the fact that they’re endangered species. Through “Animals in Color,” Rachel strives to bring attention to our interactions with animals.
“I’d hoped when I was making the exhibit to get people to understand that animals have their own personalities,” Rachel said. “We don’t grasp that enough.”
Rachel draws inspiration from her surroundings and stresses the notion of creating a positive viewing experience.
“Most of my motivation comes from knowing that every person that I come in contact with or anytime someone sees my art, I make an impact on someone,” Rachel said. “And I always strive to make that impact a positive one.”
Family support has been instrumental in Rachel’s success. Charlie is an avid fan of her artwork and has one of Rachel’s charcoal drawings of a wolf hanging in his living room. He hopes that having her art displayed to the public will lead to more opportunities for her career.
“I’ve always been amazed at her talent and we’ve always encouraged her,” Charlie said. “Hopefully all this will take her somewhere else and open up some doors and give her new horizons.”
One of the things Rachel loves the most about painting is being able to create things that weren’t there before. For her, painting is a means of self-expression, and through “Animals in Color,” Rachel is able to do just that.
“I get into a flow … you just sit there and you do it and when you’re done and you’re like ‘Wow, this came to be and I wasn’t even thinking about it.’” Rachel said. “It’s really cool for something to just show up on a canvas like that.”
Rachel hopes that by having her exhibit displayed at Clementine, she will inspire others to pursue their passions.
“I want people to be inspired to do what they are passionate about and want them to be inspired to achieve their dreams.” Rachel said. “Too often people talk themselves out of doing things they’re truly interested and passionate about, and they should not be.”
Contact Abby Church at email@example.com.