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Pomfret resident’s digital paintings go on display for a good cause

  • Artist and architect Samuel Neustadt, of Pomfret, Vt., is currently showing portraits of people and buildings from the Pomfret and Woodstock area in the show "Faces and Places" at ArtisTree. Neustadt was photographed at his home in Pomfret Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Royalton farmer Jinny Cleland is among the people artist Samuel Neustadt has made digital portraits of. His work is on view at ArtisTree Gallery in South Pomfret. (Courtesy Samuel Neustadt)

  • Samuel Neustadt's work is on display in a show titled "Faces and Places," at ArtisTree Gallery, which is just around the corner from the Teago General Store in South Pomfret. (Courtesy Samuel Neustadt)



Valley News correspondent
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Samuel Neustadt had had a 40-year career as an architect when he began painting digitally four years ago, using his iPadPro and the Procreate app. He was inspired partially by British artist David Hockney’s extensive experimentation with the Brushes app and an iPad, making digital drawings and paintings, and then printing them out on a laserjet printer.

Neustadt, who lives with his wife, Brenda Siemer, in Pomfret, had made art since he was a child growing up in Irvington, N.J. Now 73, he has retired, more or less, from full-time work as an architect: “I’m not interested in holding anybody’s hand anymore.”

Digital painting now claims his attention, and the results of his experiments are now coming into public view. “Faces and Places,” a show of his portraits and landscapes, is on view at ArtisTree Gallery in South Pomfret through Sept. 28. Proceeds from sales of the work go to Zack’s Place, the Woodstock nonprofit that provides arts, cultural and physical education programs for people with special needs.

Neustadt was interviewed prior to the opening last Friday, an event he regarded with some equivocation. “I would prefer going to sleep tonight and waking up Saturday morning,” he said. (A week later he reported that he had enjoyed the opening tremendously).

Neustadt had long painted on the side but also felt, he said, that he had not put in the decades of training and apprenticeship in oils, acrylics and watercolor which go into the life of an artist. As a result, he said, he felt that he would only be frustrated if or when the ideas in his head did not translate technically onto paper or canvas the way he’d envisioned them.

But making art digitally offered a way around that. As an architect he was well-versed in AutoCAD, the design and drafting program. With a year of intense study and practice he was able to become fluent in the language of digital art.

“Computers gave me the ability to produce something that was done close to what I had in my head,” Neustadt said. He prints out smaller works himself using a computer printer, but he sends the larger works to Germany, where they are printed on aluminum.

But he had no plans to exhibit his paintings. “I was just doing the work and enjoying the process,” he said.

He turned to his Pomfret and Woodstock neighbors as potential subjects. When Dottie Deans, a former chair of the Democratic Party in Vermont who lives in Pomfret and who sat for Neustadt, saw Neustadt’s works, she suggested he pull some of his portraits and landscapes for an exhibition that would benefit the community. There are 70 in all in the show.

For his portraits, Neustadt begins by taking 15 to 30 photographs of a person. Neustadt finds that a subject begins to relax after the 15th photograph and by the time he gets to around 30, the subject is “not as conscious of the camera as they were at the beginning,” he said. “Those are the shots most valuable to me.”

People reveal themselves, consciously and unconsciously, through expression and gesture.

“Most of what I’m looking for comes through in the eyes and the structure of the face. The hands and face and the rest of the form don’t matter to me, the eye can fill that in,” Neustadt said.

Most individuals are receptive to Neustadt’s request for a portrait. One, Pomfret farmer Neil Lamson, told him, “If you’re foolish enough to want to paint me, I’m foolish enough to let you.”

People are often surprised by what Neustadt captures of their essence. His subjects often ask, Do I really look like that? In some images, their faces emerge out of a dark background, akin to Thomas Eakins’ pensive, cerebral portraits. In others they are posed against a brightly colored background but gaze outward with a seriousness of purpose.

As a young man in the 1960s, Neustadt left Irvington, which he characterized as a then-tough town not far from Newark, to study art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. It was the first place, he said, where he felt a sense of kinship with fellow students. “Here are people like me,” he said.

He received both a bachelor’s degree in architecture, and a master’s degree in sculpture from Pratt, and did professional training at Pratt and Harvard.

In the early 1960s, he made his first trip to Europe, which has called him back ever since. He happened to be in Florence during the catastrophic 1966 flood of the River Arno, which killed more than 100 people and did terrible, seemingly irrevocable damage to the city’s dazzling heritage of art and architecture, as well as its massive, irreplaceable collections of city, state and literary archives. He has had a lifelong relationship with Florence, a city to which he returns as often as possible.

Neustadt decided to go into architecture, partially as a pragmatic choice.

“I was good in art, I could see something and I could present it, and I was good at math and science,” he said. “It’s been wonderful, it’s taken me through a whole career.”

He has designed both residential and commercial architecture, and has had offices in New York City and in the South. Prior to Pomfret, he lived in Reading and Woodstock. The Pomfret house is of his own design.

He is in his studio daily. “I’ve been doing the work for the purpose of doing the work. I really believe in doing the work and whatever happens, happens.”

He quotes the Pratt mantra: “Be true to your work and your work will always be true.”

“Faces and Places” continues at ArtisTree Gallery in South Pomfret through Sept. 28. For information go to artistreevt.org, or call 802-457-3500.

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.