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Artist Jacob Newman looks at Phoenix with fresh eyes — and draws it: Made in Arizona

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Monday, February 26, 2024 - 10:50am

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When you’ve lived in a place for a long time, it can be easy to miss the vibrancy of it. But artist Jacob Newman looks at Phoenix with fresh eyes — and draws it. 

Newman grew up in the Midwest, went to college in Colorado where he was a cartoonist for the student newspaper. And when his family relocated to Phoenix, he followed. 

When he arrived in Arizona last last year, he started drawing scenes and store fronts in the neighborhood near where he works, around Perry Park in east Phoenix. The Show talked to him about his work and his reaction to Phoenix when he first got here.

Man in purple shirt sits in studio
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ

Interview highlights

What was your reaction to Phoenix when you first got here?

NEWMAN: I was grateful to be in a place with so much personality. I, I mean, Phoenix is so colorful, and it has such a singular American identity. I mean, this is in my opinion, really the only of its kind, both in the sort of the character of the music and the food and the culture, the architectural history. And so, I was just sort of so thrilled about it.

Hand holding colorful art of building in front of the actual building
Jacob Newman
Artwork by Jacob Newman and its subject.

That's so interesting because so many people will rag on Phoenix and say it doesn't have any culture or architectural identity or any of those things. Yet's interesting as an outsider, you really see those things. Do you think you look at it differently?

NEWMAN: I think that Phoenix has sort of an exceptional blend of a lot of different influences, groups and people who have come here for many different reasons and created a very unlikely identity that is what we have today. I mean, you have like, you know, retirees and the sort of original gateway to the rest of the world that. This was a sort of frontier town. And, you know, now you have many different first-generation populations coming from around the world, and it's really very special to see all of them interacting, but standing on the ground of the history that was here. So like, that's what I love observing in my businesses, is that you have like a place that has meant many different things to many people over time.

Artwork of brick building
Jacob Newman
Artwork by Jacob Newman.

So let's talk about your businesses, as you call them. You look at them very dearly and you draw them in this very particular way. First, talk about how this kind of project began. What was the first business you remember that you started drawing in this way?

NEWMAN: Sure. So I work on 32nd and Windsor, and it just puts me right in the middle of this area that I draw. And just, I was driving down East Thomas Road every day and honestly, I was just floored by what I was seeing. I mean, the, the color of the businesses, the color of the people, the vibrance that, you know — I moved here in June — the heat, the intensity, just all of it was coming together. And it just felt like the only thing I could do was draw it, that was the only way I could process how amazed I was by it. And the first business that I drew was Nickel City Baby.

Colorful art of buildings
Jacob Newman
Artwork by Jacob Newman.

So you're picking these places that are not like the popular place, the hip place, the cool place. It's places that are sort of strip-mall places or mom-and-pop shops. Places most people would probably drive by and not notice at all.

NEWMAN: Sure. You know, I think why it feels so personal to me is, my own family in coming to the United States generations ago, you know, found their way and survived by opening small businesses. They had at one time, an electronics store, a liquor store a kosher butcher. And this was how they were able to pay to help their children go to college and to sort of build their way into the American dream. And so really, when I see these businesses, I see that semblance of my own story.

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