Russell James Newberg translates Southwestern and Mexican imagery into art

By Lynette Carrington

Thanks to his time in Tucson and Mexico, Russell James Newberg is using literal cutting-edge precision and infusions of color to reflect the land of his birth and his hometown.

“My parents are United States citizens, but my dad has done a variety of linguistic work with the Zapotec indigenous people in Oaxaca, Mexico,” Newberg says. “My folks were in Mexico when I was born but established in Tucson when I was 2 years old.”

Newberg’s paper art will be on display at the Tucson Botanical Garden beginning August 3.

“Growing up, I was always surrounded by art,” Newberg says. “My mom always had construction paper, crayons and pencils and I was encouraged to do a lot of art. Art has always been my sanctuary and my respite.”

Newberg earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with an emphasis in public agency service from NAU and a master’s from UA in public administration. College wasn’t an easy run for Newberg, who then suffered from severe headaches, narcolepsy and depression.

“After school, I was interested in the nonprofit sector and had a service mindset,” Newberg explains.

He interned for the town of Oro Valley then took a year off to hike and spend time with friends. Afterward, Newberg was employed by Canyon Ranch Institute, but he didn’t feel it was a good fit and shifted gears. His health had stabilized, and art once again emerged as a strong creative outlet.

“I started making stop-motion videos,” Newberg explains. “I’d make illustrations and paper cut outs, scan them into the computer and then put them in iMovie and stitch them all together. These videos were a backdrop for me doing spoken word and creating what I was feeling at the time.”

After those videos, he started working more with paper. Newberg’s brother and sister were enthusiastic about Newberg’s artwork. His brother, who is an artist, encouraged him to create works that reflected Tucson.

“What I’ve made so far have been the Mexican Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls, local animals and cactus flowers,” Newberg explains.

He is enjoying the process of creating unique paper pieces.

“I’ll first do the design on paper with a Sharpie,” he says. “I’ll lay a piece of computer paper on top of that design. Then I’ll take my mom’s knitting needles and rub over the computer paper design. I’ll then transfer that piece over to the beautifully colored textured paper. I’ll re-draw the lines to make an indentation and then use an X-Acto knife and I’ll cut out the designs.”

It’s a painstaking process. Newberg chooses the colors he will use but he doesn’t necessarily know how the final piece will look. He creates as he goes. He enjoys sharing his unique desert-inspired art interpretation.

“I want to get people connected with nature and the local flora and fauna,” Newberg says. “With my art, people have something that is colorful and locally made that will help them appreciate all the beauty we have around here.”

For more information about Russell James Newberg’s art, visit

Russell James Newberg has always had art in his life. (Photos courtesy Russell James Newberg)