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San Jose Mercury News, Calif., Mike Cassidy column [San Jose Mercury News, Calif.]
[September 02, 2010]

San Jose Mercury News, Calif., Mike Cassidy column [San Jose Mercury News, Calif.]

(San Jose Mercury News (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 02--Some day, maybe a long time from now, people are going to look back and ask: Who were all the people behind the technological wonders produced in Silicon Valley? They might find their answers in the portraits by David Newman, a San Francisco artist who finds inspiration in innovators.

If he were in New England, he might paint fishermen hauling in their catches. If he were in oil country, it might be the smudged visages of well drillers.

But he's in Silicon Valley, so it's developers -- the stone-faced software wizards who bring technology to daily life for the rest of the world. He catches them while they work. And of course, he paints them on his iPad, because, well, Silicon Valley, remember? "I try to get the details as much as I can," Newman says, as he flits a stylus over his iPad. I met Newman on a recent weekend at the iOSDevCamp 2010 on PayPal's San Jose campus, where he was serving as artist in residence. This is the stage for Newman's art, the marathon app developer sessions and hackathons that bring together thinkers, dreamers and doers working together to push technology forward. (The iPod, iPhone and iPad platform in this case.) The rooms full of developers, tapping away on laptops, provides a target-rich environment for Newman, a classically trained artist who has been doing digital art since the dawn of digital art in the 1980s. He was a marketing guy then for Via Video, a company that had a computer system with drawing capabilities. "It cost $45,000, had 16 colors and weighed probably 300 pounds," Newman, 54, says.

Now, Newman carries a 11?2-pound iPad (complete with painting program) under his arm, finds a subject, sits a few feet away for an hour or two and sketches and paints to produce a striking and vividly colored digital portrait.

Newman's choice of subject -- software engineers, application developers and other tech wizards -- is hardly random. Newman's work is informed by the nature of modern technology: rarely is there one inventor, one creator of the next big thing. Each new app, each tweak to open-source code, contributes to the greater whole. Often the big breakthrough results from a series of small breakthroughs, engineered by nameless, faceless programmers.

Newman has taken it upon himself to give them faces.

"They are inspired and they inspire me," Newman says. "They are the Thomas Edisons and the Henry Fords and the Marie Curies of today, who are inventing and innovating, and their images should appear in museums and galleries." Newman gives his portraits to his subjects, as thanks for their participation in his art. He hopes to find a gallery that would act as an outlet for sales of his work. And he is looking for paying gigs from individuals and corporate customers.

When I find Newman at PayPal, he's creating for the love of it -- sitting face-to-face with August Joki, a developer working on a novel user interface for the Apple devices. Joki is focused like a laser on his laptop screen. Newman has captured the intense look, the pukka shells, the Cal cap.

"Wow," Joki, 27, says. "I think it looks really good. Great details." And so Joki becomes one of about 80 iPad portraits of innovators that Newman displays on Flickr and at developers conferences throughout the valley.

"It's a great angle for an artist to go around trying to discover people who may not have broken their story yet," says Dom Sagolla, a Twitter pioneer and key organizer of the iOSDevCamp event.

Newman does have a wish list of subjects, some more famous than others. Engineers at Facebook and Google are on the list. So are artist David Hockney, Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee and Apple's Steve Jobs.

"I'd like to paint the artist on his creation," Newman says. No, he hasn't formally asked Jobs yet, but maybe someday. In the meantime, he says, he'd be happy to sketch me while I work.

And so two days after we first meet, Newman is sitting three feet from me staring into my face as I type, talk on the phone, procrastinate, write. And in two hours, there is my face on Newman's iPad. Stern. Serious. But definitely me.

True, I'm no David Hockney, Tim Berners-Lee or Steve Jobs. But I have entered Newman's gallery and for that I'm grateful.

Contact Mike Cassidy at or 408-920-5536. Follow him on Twitter at

david newman's IPAD PORTRAITS To see Newman's portraits go to photos/dnsf/sets/72157624456861368/.

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