NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 78

76 Around 1987, in the midst of an eight-year period (1984-92) when he was dividing his time between the u.s. and France, Norton made a definitive shift to painting per se, producing at first grotesque (though comically bright and squiggly) fantasy creatures tumbled together in quasi-patterned arrangements against placeless monochrome backgrounds. The forms, hues, and compositions bore a kinship to those of the CoBrA movement, Peter Saul, the Chicago Imagists, and the French artists Robert Combas and Herve Di Rosa. This was, after all, the era of East Village recklessness. Yet a structural regularity, angular and geometric, persisted in Norton’s two-dimensional works, implying that his sculptures were, in effect, still there under the more organic (and orgasmic) overlays of painterly figuration. It was as if the abstract structure of Indian Space Painting — an overtly American synthesis of Cubism and Surrealism practiced in the 1940s and ’50s by artists such as Howard Daum, Gertrude Barrer, Steve Wheeler, Will Barnet, Peter Busa, and Robert Barrell — had been infused with the psychedelic impulses of the Vietnam War era. That ability to embrace contraries, holding them simultaneously in dynamic equipoise, has remained a signature feature of Norton’s art up to the present day. In the 1990s and early 2000s, when his palette was dominated by blue, white, and black, he tended to create visual zones — some populated by rectilinear shapes, some by circles and curves — asymmetrically balanced like equally important but largely segregated realms of cognition and feeling (After the Fact, 2001-02). In these works, anxiety is contemplated as a theme and at the same time actively experienced by both artist and viewer. The images convey an existential anxiety of choice, where every option selected entails the loss of its equally attractive (and equally troublesome) alternative. Vacillation or stasis seem to be the only responses possible within this locked, internally churning, visual universe.