Studio 8 in Forest Park had two firsts on Friday, Nov. 15. It was the first official art gallery show held at the eclectic vintage shop, and it was the first exhibit ever of Oak Park artist Irving Newman’s works, which had been in storage since he created them in the 1960s. 

Melody Kratz and Brian Shamhart, owners of Studio 8 at 7316 Madison St., said they discovered Newman’s art in the spring when they went to his home to look into buying some items for their store. 

They noticed some “amazing geometric art” on the walls and asked about it. Newman’s wife, Erusha, told them they were her husband’s works. Katz and Shamhart said they were surprised when she and Newman showed them two closets in the home filled with his artwork.

Katz describes Newman’s work as “geometric modern art done in the style of Josef Albers,” who was most famous for his “Homage to the Square” series, which he worked on for over 20 years, starting in the late 1940s. Albers’ works from this period focused on how simply changing color and spatial relationships using the same shape — the square — could create significant artistic and optical differences. “Abstraction is real,” Albers is quoted as saying. “Probably more real than nature.”

It is easy to see Albers’ influence in Newman’s works, which focus on squares and rectangles, strict geometric patterns, offset by different colors.

Newman said his work also explores themes, especially the art books that are on display at Studio 8, and he finds connections between music and art. 

“[The books] are variations on a theme,” said Newman. “The concept is similar to variations on a theme that you find in classical music. I am interested in musical variation. In art, I focused on shape and color variation.” His favorite composers are Beethoven and Brahms. 

It was the first time Newman had seen his work presented in a gallery space, and the first time he’d looked at a majority of his paintings all at once.

“It’s special,” said Newman. “This can’t be duplicated.”

Born in 1934, he grew up in the Bronx, New York City. In the military, he served in Korea, 1954 to 1955. Upon return, he graduated from Brooklyn Community College and developed an interest in architecture and fine arts. 

In the late 1950s, Newman attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and here he became inspired to create his own art. In the 1960s, he presented at art shows on the East coast, including exhibits at A.M. Sachs Gallery and other galleries in New York City, Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

He went on a worldwide tour in the 1970s, during which he studied architecture in different countries. He met his future wife in London in 1976, and in 1984 they were married and settled in Oak Park, where they have lived ever since.

Newman’s career in architecture throughout the Chicago area included work on the O’Hare International Terminal in the early 1990s. 

Kratz was excited to have Newman’s work in the first gallery show at Studio 8. “We acquired more than 50 paintings and art books he created,” she said. “They are absolutely stunning.

“To find such a prominent collection of modern art is extremely rare. We are so excited to finally show off this collection by one of our local residents.”