NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 79

k Worth th Wait, 2009-2010 Diptych, Acrylic on linen 103 x 126 inches o Slow Smolder, 2010 Private Collection 52 x 63 inches Compartmentalization cannot last — so at least the voices of good mental health advise us. Thankfully, for reasons that are not entirely clear (least of all to the artist himself ), the log jam finally broke. Previously, Norton had devoted much studio time to working and reworking old canvases, often winning a kind of forced liberation of the gestural curves. In the early 2000s, one saw those rounded shapes breaking out of their former constraints, invading larger and larger portions of the field (Milton and John, 2002-03). Yet the colors remain cool and limited, tending to somberness. Anyone who has had a dark night of the soul is likely to feel the intense anguish of these works, and to fear a bit for their author. Then, suddenly, something quite splendid happened, affecting this viewer and others with force. Revisiting Norton’s studio in 2008 after a longish absence, I was greeted by a new world of color. “What a wallop!” I blurted in front of the first work I saw, a phrase that subsequently became its title. Some 12½ feet wide by 7½ feet high, featuring vertical strips of bright yellow stippled with green, white, red, and pink, the diptych pushes its picture plane forward like a caution sign that has tossed caution aside, proclaiming instead a new order of pleasure and happiness. The effect of the painting — bold as Pop art but completely abstract — was shared by several other canvasses in the room and by many more soon to come. My exclamation echoed, I believe, the implicit battle cry of this newest, most accomplished phase of the artist’s career. This is not to say that the paintings Norton has made over the past decade are simple in either construction or meaning. Far from it. Ornette (2006), named for the free jazz great Ornette Coleman, is a broken field of seemingly random forms and colors that somehow mysteriously cohere, in the manner of Coleman’s startling music. Works like Einstein’s Edge of Winter (2009-11) and Pink-E (2011), with their firmly differentiated quarters, remind us that paradigms or “frames of reference” are as determinative in art as they are in physics. Split Kick (2009-10) is partially riddled with holes, Swiss cheese fashion, revealing the linen beneath — one of the lacunae grown large as a cartoon thought-bubble, but blank and disclosing nothing. Is this the Nothingness that seemed to impend in the earlier “blue” works? Apparently not, since similar holes appear in many cheerily hued pictures, such as Mr. Sweetheart (200910), Slow Smolder (2010) and, most pointedly, Worth the Wait (2009-10) — a work that is thoroughly upbeat in both title and coloration, although it duly notes the annoyance of delayed gratification. 77 k Mr Sweetheart, 2010 Acrylic on linen 63 x 103 inches BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE q Split Kick, 2009-2010 Diptych, Acrylic on linen 103 x 126 inches