A conversation between Thierry Goldberg Gallery and Nicholas Norris
Thierry Goldberg: What was your first encounter with art and when did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Nicholas Norris: My mom’s best friend is an amazing plein air painter who taught art lessons out of her house. Being my mom's best friend I was obviously going to be doing a lot of those lessons including summer camps at her house. I remember at a really young age painting Van Gough’s sunflowers. Even though my family wasn’t so art-oriented, I always had this one person.
TG: How do you begin your work?
NN: I’ll often start with quick sketches. I will revisit them and add elements to my paintings. One of my mentors early on encouraged me to just get my hand going and make things every day. Even though you don't always want to, that part of making drawings every day is really helpful and keeps me engaged. Drawing is super important because my lens comes through quickly in the drawing.
TG: Does your use of pattern come in more during the drawing or painting process?
NN: A lot of my patterns come through in the initial drawing process. I was thinking about this the other day and find my use of patterns to be a helpful tool to push something back, pull something forward, or add more light without being too obvious. The patterns also help push color to different places, green interacting with red is going to vibrate in a different way than it does with other shades of green.
TG: What inspires your patterns?
NN: Several things. Driving on the freeway in Arizona and California, the freeway walls always have these designs, like lizards, that help to elevate the object out of its original state. In Venice Beach, mural art is everywhere in this similar vein. When I visited Lisbon, tiles were on every building. They are these really amazing hand painted patterns. I think I am attracted to this innate need to make something feel unique and stand out from the rest. For me it's a similar type of process in that my patterns help reveal the underpainting so you can begin to see these different layers which are all still interacting with one another.
TG: Tell me a bit about your painting process.
NN: There is this moment that I begin painting and I think they are going to be terrible. I just want to get to the end but I know it's going to take a lot of time. For me, It's about being comfortable with the times that I feel the works are a bit too far out of my reach. This is when I work best, when I feel like I have these problems that I have to figure out. Sometimes I have to set myself up for failure in order to react and create. Moments of failure are when I really start using my mind.
TG: I know you usually work on a couple of paintings at once. Do you borrow aspects from other paintings you are currently working on at the same time?
NN: I love to put a lot of different ways of painting into one painting and I do borrow from other paintings, bringing in certain things that might not necessarily fit, but then they do.
These works all actually ended around the same time. It is hard to know when a work is complete. I feel like a painting can be painted on forever. There are endless things that you could do to a work. I am lucky to be able to put them up in my studio and see them all up at once. I often will move the works around and put a piece I might be struggling with next to one I am feeling good about to see what the work may need. I have to allow myself to tap into this intuition, to be in an almost meditative state in order to be decisive with the invention. If I try to control too much, it never really works. It's more of this act of letting go and being confident in trying unlikely things that I normally wouldn’t think of doing.
TG: Do you find yourself trying to leave a lot of room for serendipity in your works?
NN: That's actually a really important part for me. We talk a lot in painting about things “working” or “not working” and it is truly extremely subjective. We all see color differently. A lot of my process is getting into that zone where I'm not concentrating on thinking about painting it but rather letting it happen. Honestly, one of the most exciting parts for me is the moment after I do something different and something just clicks.
There is a lot of labor in these works but there are also open moments. Sometimes additions and alterations happen really fast and there's this certain freshness with it. You know ten seconds of painting but three hours of thinking about doing something like that. I like seeing that process.
TG: Can you tell me more about the interior spaces in your work?
NN: Many of these paintings started from making drawings of this collection/event space next door to my studio. The fun part of working in this space is that it's full of wonky sculptures and interesting furniture.
TG: Has painting this event space rather than a livable space differed your works at all?
NN: That's interesting. Usually, there would be a bed or that comforting chair that's in the house and none of these works have that in them. I feel like we develop very strong emotions about the spaces we live in and I did bring aspects of that into this work. Some days I really enjoyed the anonymity of the event space, and on others, it felt like too much. That’s when I return to livable spaces that I know well because It feels a bit safer.
TG: You have talked in the past about how you often consider the objects in your works as your figures? What does this mean to you? How do you think you treat the representation of objects differently?
NN: A human figure is what we know best and it tends to reveal itself really fast. The anatomy of a figure is set and it’s hard to make it look otherwise. Some objects like trophies, or palm trees, are very close to figures as they have some sort of stalk and something at the top. I think they operate not as human figures, but as figure objects in a scene. They still carry this certain sense of emotion and weight.
If I have a fireplace and a chair in a room, they are taking up space that human figures would. There's really not that much difference in how they act within the work. They just aren’t a part of the anatomy that we know best.
I found that there is freedom in an object, a way to have it reveal itself slower. There is something exciting about what happens when a figure is not there but there are still figure-like objects in the space. We experience humans the same way but there is a lot of variation in objects and I get excited about seeing what it is that we hold on to.