Barroom artist's works on view one more time

Friends, relatives keep up his annual tradition

November 26, 2003|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

The final, memorial show of works by Charlie Newton, one of the last grandmaster painters of the Baltimore barroom school, opens at 7 tonight at the Gemini Bistro in Fells Point.

Newton died in July at 74, but his art lives on. This is his 42nd Thanksgiving show since his first opened at Morris Martick's Lower Tyson Street Cafe - now M.'s Restaurant Francais - where he was a bartender in 1961.

A rundown of his venues reads like an elegy for lost bars: No Fish Today, Bernie Lee's Pub, the Roosevelt Hotel, Phil Burke's, the Stereo Den, the Waterfront Hotel and Turkey Joe's, which occupied the South Broadway space now housing the Gemini.

It was the late John Kefover, a scarecrow kind of painter with a visionary style, who said he and Newton, Jim Joyner, Glenn Walker and about a half-dozen other artists made up the Baltimore Barroom School of Art, like the Ashcan School or Hudson River School or Barbizon School, only they hung out in bars.

Newton's son, Bill, and Gene Raynor, the political guru who was a major collector of Newton's works, organized this show. Newton held about 20 of his annual shows at the Waterfront Hotel when Raynor ran it.

"Charlie made me promise him I'd have this 42nd annual show and I've come up with theme: `This One for You, Charlie,'" Bill Newton says. "And that's what we're calling the show."

Raynor's showing 20 paintings and Bill Newton about 25 pieces, including paintings, pen and ink drawings and memorabilia.

"I've got about 55 years of sketchbooks," Bill says. "A lot of stuff from the sketchbooks that nobody's ever seen."

At the end, his father hung out mostly in Fells Point places that have a kind of seasoned integrity, the Whistling Oyster, Miss Elaine's, the Waterfront Hotel until it closed and the Cat's Eye Pub. He painted murals in the last two and a newer bar on Thames called Kooper's Tavern. And he often showed his work in the others. But he drank only moderately, National Boh for about 40 years. A longneck bottle, sometimes with a rose stuck in the mouth, often appeared in the drawing he did for his Thanksgiving show announcements.

He started out as a master draftsman and painter of Baltimore's Beat-Bohemian generation. He was a kind of more adventurous Jack Kerouac. He hung out with Fidelista rebels in Cuba; he traveled to Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles: he toured Israel during one crisis or another. He usually came home with a suite of paintings.

He served in both the Army and the Air Force, and he earned a fine-arts degree from Fresno State College in California. He had an acute Daumier-like eye for the ironies and idiosyncrasies of the barroom scene. He painted rain-soaked street corners and Thames Street facades and the Fells Point waterfront at night and sunlit Impressionist landscapes on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland.

Newton had a craftsmanlike view of his art. He liked to say: "I'm a picture painter."

"Everybody takes up air, space, food. You gotta warrant your existence. You gotta do something constructive. My contribution is picture-painting. Everybody does something."

Tonight and for about a month at the Gemini Grill on South Broadway you can see some of what Charlie Newton did in the neighborhood where he lived and painted at the end of his life.

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