Left, Sacha Newley with his parents, the late Anthony Newley and Joan Collins. Above, Newley’s portrait of director Oliver Stone. Below, Newley in his London studio. Today, Sacha Newley is one of the hottest talents in portraiture. Sir Nigel Hawthorne, Gore Vidal, Billy Wilder, Oliver Stone and Dominick Dunne have all sat before his gimlet eye; Nigel Kennedy is next up for immortality. Newley has lived in Los Angeles for the past five years, so his work is rarely glimpsed in Britain. But this spring sees his first major UK exhibition, at the Proud Galleries. The show will feature new abstracts and four portraits which include images of Stephen Berkoff on Venice Beach and Newley’s father as Scrooge in a Christmas Carol. Newley is a highly talented Renaissance figure, equally at ease with the pen, the brush, the piano keyboard, and the conversational gambit. Devilishly handsome, with his father's features and as chiselled as his mother, he has an air of dishevelled eccentricity. It has been said that he has a fantastic talent for all things artistic, but he chose painting (or painting chose him; it's hard to tell), as a tortured, soul-searching 18-year-old recluse living in an unheated flat in Lyme Regis. Early teenage stirrings ran to mythological figures and what he refers to as an 'attempt to communicate extremes of feeling through the figure'. Then, At 20, he opened his eyes, looked in the mirror and painted from life. He calls the result 'A Portrait of the Young Egotist in Pain'. 'It came out pretty well,' he grins. 'Then I painted my sister Katy. That came out really well.' The painstaking Newley style took shape. 'I became absolutely obsessed with recreating likeness,' continues Newley. 'The mystery of likeness is very profound. A face is a series of mathematical relationships: get them right and you seize upon the interior person.’ A series of commissions catapulted his career upwards. His breakthrough was a brilliant oil of Nigel Hawthorne as George III Standing (1993), painted backstage at the National Theatre between the matinees and evening performances.
Then followed his uncommissioned Gore Vidal, which represented a personal rite of passage. 'It changed my life,' says Newley. 'Gore had always fascinated me. He gave me a ten-day window so I went to his home in Ravello, Italy. It was like going upriver to find Colonel Kurtz. I was terrified: I had an impression of an extremely brilliant, remote being. And he was just like that; he was larger than life.’ Shortly afterwards, Newley moved to America. 'I asked Billy Wilder if I could paint him. To my enormous surprise, he agreed.’ The Wilder painting led to commissions from film director Oliver Stone and author Dominick Dunne. The first Dunne sitting was on the morning of the O.J. Simpson verdict, which Dunne was covering. Besieged by death
threats, he sat and asked Newley: 'Do you mind if I write while you paint?' 'As soon as I saw him writing,' says Newley, 'I knew that was the picture.' The portrait appears on the cover of Dunne's novel, Another City, Not My Own. Newley’s portrait of Stone inspired the director to become his biggest investor. His collection includes a powerful painting of Beethoven's death mask. 'I see Sacha as bringing understanding to human nature,' Stone once mused, 'to the light and the dark, ying and yang, the sine and cosine.' When I spoke to Newley just before the death of his father in April, he talked about the influence of his parents. 'Mother has encountered some appalling obstacles and overcome them because she has enormous self-belief. I'm still trying to acquire that trait. My father, whose talent I worship, is prone to introspection.’ Newley’s inspirations are Rembrandt, Freud and Sargent. 'There's an enormous gulf between their work and my own,' he says, with an air of having failed somehow. 'It has always been a struggle. I have a natural facility, but much of it is hard, stubborn determination.' As one fascinated by inner darkness and the mystery of personality, Sacha Newley seems to be succeeding. Nerves Upon a Screen is at the Proud Galleries, 5 Buckingham Street, WC2 until 4 June 1999 Tatler, May 1999
Above, Nigel Hawthorne as George III standing