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Lance G. Newman II brings style and substance to Louisville Visual Art exhibit

Louisville artist Lance G. Newman II sits in a large whicker chair in front of some of his artwork at an exhibition.
Scott Recker
Lance G. Newman II likens making art to watering flowers. He waters them, they grow, and they sustain him.

In his exhibition at Louisville Visual Art, Lance G. Newman II transforms found objects and Black & Mild cigar materials into deeply personal moments in time. The show runs through Feb. 3.

The reason and concept behind longtime poet Lance G. Newman II’s first solo visual art exhibition is jarring and topical: He believes words don’t mean as much as they used to.

In an artist’s statement for the show “A Thousand Words” — which runs at Louisville Visual Art through Feb. 3 — Newman wrote, “I lament to find that we no longer value words as a society. We loath words, for they have been used to elect bad policy, misinform the masses and shame the most vulnerable among us.”

That’s not to say that words still don’t find a place in the exhibition. “A Thousand Words'' features mixed-media pieces Newman created with pieces of Black & Mild cigars and their boxes, found materials, historical photos and pastels with previously discarded wooden boards acting as canvases. Some of the pieces have a poem hanging in the background or a strategically placed word or sentence spliced in.

"When we speak the truth out loud, those who are against us can’t help but duck.”

On a recent Saturday visit to the exhibition, Newman — who also goes by Mr. Spreadlove — told LPM News that he thinks of art “as watering plants, so I have several plants that I put water into, that I feed, that feed me in return.”

“Because I’m multi-disciplinary, I don’t really see one lane of artistry as the end all, be all,” Newman said. “And I believe that to be an artist, there’s an eye that you have, or there’s an awareness or perspective of the world that is unique. And if you have that eye, you can express it through any lane of artistry. You just have to have the courage to do so.”

How Newman cuts and pastes parts of Black & Mild cigars, their holders and boxes — and uses the colors and letters to craft imagery — builds a signature style that adds identity, personality and complexity to his works. It creates color schemes and feelings that string the pieces in “A Thousand Words” together. The faded brown elements capture a sense of distant memories, while vibrant splashes of color breathe life and layers into the art.

This visual work of art by Lance G. Newman II is made of pieces of Black & Mild cigars.
Scott Recker
A work featuring pieces Black & Mild cigars in the exhibition.

Of using found material, Newman said that he is able “to use the litter of my life to then give a window into my reality and lived experiences.”

The choice to use Black & Mild materials particularly is more morbid and self-conscience.

“It speaks to me knowing that this vice will one, kill me, and two, affect my children and the people that love me,” Newman said. “I talk about the lost family conversations. You know, you go outside to smoke, how many conversations did I miss? How many moments could I have had with somebody that I love?”

Truth to light

When Newman was nine years old, he would change the words to songs. He said that if he heard a song around three times, he would have all of the lyrics memorized. So, he would start to morph them. It was his first dip into poetry.

When he attended Conway Middle School in Pleasure Ridge Park, he wrote a diss poem to his bullies and read it during a class presentation.

“The way my peers reacted, I had never seen before,” Newman said. “They were like, ‘Ooohhhh.’ And my bullies kind of had their heads down. And that’s something about speaking truth to power and how truth always comes to light. When we speak the truth out loud, those who are against us can’t help but duck.”

It opened up an avenue where he could express himself and entertain people simultaneously. During his teenage years, he performed his poetry at Expressions Of You, a now-closed coffee house and gallery on Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

After that, he went to Western Kentucky University, where he started an open mic series. He eventually left college to tour the East Coast poetry scene.

When Newman came back home to Louisville, he established his company SpreadLove Enterprises in 2013, creating a circuit of public speaking and poetry workshops. He was also the executive director of the Southern Fried Poetry Slam when it was held in Louisville in 2017 and 2022.

In 2018, he was in the first generation of the Hadley Creative Cohort, a fellowship where several local artists from different disciplines come together for professional development classes.

He entered the program as a poet, but he quickly realized almost everyone else was a visual artist.

“The industry, the arts economy is surprisingly built for visual artists,” Newman said.

After that, he decided to add visual components to how he creates.

He said mentors like Stan Squirewell, who could supply him with constructive criticism, were pivotal, and that the transition was smooth because of the creative connection between the two mediums.

“Do we consider the poetry of pictures? Do we consider the poetry of art? Do we even speak or even acknowledge the words that they bring out within us? So, it’s an easy transition in my mind, where I would once write pages of rhetoric, I can now paint the picture,” Newman said. “Writing is so much about painting the picture.”

The licorice on mars

One of the most striking pieces in the exhibition is called “Waiting For The Next Fix.”

It’s a dreary scene in front of a desolate gas station, with a single figure standing at the edge of the building. Nearby, a beat-up truck sits by itself in front of the doors. It features various parts of a Black & Mild box — the yellow price tag lines the edge of the curb and a boarded-up window; dark purple makes up the figure’s coat; other colors work in harmony to build a heavy scene. The dimensions make viewers absorb both the largeness of the city and the emptiness of a singular place.

“Waiting For The Next Fix” by Lance G. Newman II is a mosaic of mixed media depicting a person standing outside a corner store and a truck parked nearby.
Scott Recker
“Waiting For The Next Fix” by Lance G. Newman II.

Newman’s artworks are like suspended moments in time that convey stark realities and nuanced feelings.

Another piece features a scene from the 1989 film “Harlem Nights,” which stars Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. Newman said that he spent more time at his grandparent’s house after his mother and father divorced when he was a kid, and that film represents aspects of that timeframe.

“That movie was on every single time I would be dropped off,” he said.

Another takeaway from the piece is how interesting his Black & Mild style interprets clothing. In the piece, the two main characters are wearing suits. The way he brings vibrance out of using a discarded product to create bow ties and lapels seems like a magic trick.

The exhibition also includes Newman’s earliest artwork, a piece he did in third grade.

Grade school Newman painted himself on Mars – which was artistically interpreted to be made out of licorice — harvesting candy.

In some ways, it ties back into the exhibition’s theme of how easily we discard things.

“It’s interesting that this has lasted,” Newman said. “It’s lasted the moves, it’s lasted the turbulent nature of my life.”

Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.

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