NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 80

78 In Sidewinder (2010-11), a ladder-like grid appears, suggesting a column of high-rise windows perhaps, but also hinting at a subtle return of the repressed: the latticework of Norton’s early sculpture. Its appearance is a tacit acknowledgement of the space that has otherwise been systematically withheld from Norton’s paintings through a deliberate refusal of perspective and modeling. But, as Chinese painters have long known, there are other ways to evoke space — most deftly by counterposing form with a vast emptiness. A small boat drawn on a blank expanse will seem suspended in limitless depth and eternity. Such juxtapositions may not always be comforting — “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me,” Pascal said — but confronting the void, even obliquely, is necessary to both art and reason. In short, an emotion-laden space persists in Norton’s paintings, behind the gapped peek-a-boo surfaces, around their unmodulated forms. In several of his most recent works, Euclid (2012-13), Hot Enough to Melt (2013) and many more, the empty passages have gained almost equal parity with the forms. Moreover, since his breakthrough moment at the turn of the millennium, Norton has also been making sculpture again, somewhat on the sly: familiar grid forms in wood, hemp, and plaster; tangled skeins of limp cord oddly reminiscent of dripping paint. For this artist, space itself — depth in both the pictorial and psychological sense — is tempting and ineradicable. It is the compositional factor commonly associated, in Western thought, with deathly oblivion but also with the passage of time and the kind of traumas that no adult living in the art world escapes: youthful indiscretions and wanderings, intoxicants, volatile relationships, professional frustrations, divorce. Thus this work’s pictorial dialogue between emptiness and form, as constant as the inner duel of memory and presence, remorse and hope. Today, however, the painter is in a very good place, enjoying financial security, a stable and loving second marriage, a well-earned facility in his work, and the quiet respect of his artistic peers. His more disturbing concerns center now on political-economic chicanery and environmental waste — the state of the world rather than the state of his soul. To judge from the painterly emblems with which Norton currently presents us, these grim social issues remain, linen-like, in the background and margins — undisguised and undeniable, to be sure, but overridden by a brightly joyous artistic life under the sign of Matisse.