Thursday, September 11, 2008

Portland PDX Art interview with TJ Norris adapted from Art CIVIC

information about the full spectrum of TJ Norris’s amazing body of work is available at his website
Represented by NAAU (New American Art Union, Portland, OR)

Conversation with TJ Norris

Where do you plug in for inspiration or do you feel you are an outlet of a creative force that is using you?

Mostly I simply walk through the city for inspiration. I'm an addictive people watcher. Commuting on public transportation is fantastically weird. I am part of the mix of so many skins and quirks as much as the next rider. My main plug-in has always been music, the ambience of empty space to the sounds I'm plugged into. It's something I don't create myself, but something translated through my work in ways I hope others can understand in terms of tones, composition, harmony...ya know. I'm rarely disconnected from my portable player. Black light, white noise.....

What sparks you, charges you up besides art?

Aside from the sounds of the street et al I would have to say a solid dialogue about anything from baudy to Baudelaire. I'm a bit of a foodie as a descendent of a master chef mom and I actually like working out at the gym.When did you did you first realize that you are born to be an artist?I was quite young. As soon as I was given materials to play with. Probably in pre-kindergarten when I used mucilage and glitter to do portraits of miniature kings and queens.

Sounds like you read fairytales at an early age what kind of and how did they shape your view of your world?

I remember Johnny Appleseed, Willy Wonka and my favorite, Dr. Seuss. Those crazy mishapen caricatures were misfits, but somehow the underdog always rises to acceptance, fame or breaks the mold. Life's like that. These were my role models as a kid.Which Art form defines you best and why?The still image. Not still life. Never a dull moment, but a compendium of so many moments. I see a photograph as a full-length film that been edited to a fraction of a second...I really like the way the still image can be so specific, yet so elusive at the same time.

So do you see your self as elusive but specific at the same time or do you separate your artist self from the practical self?

I'm quite impractical and have been known to be a little impulsive.I'm Libra, it takes me time to make most decisions, I weigh everything like fine grains of sand.Is art still relevant in an enviroment where we are bombarded by images?More so. You can wade through a sea of art and not see a single thing. It's very subjective to the individual. As a maker, I really appreciate when I come upon something that stops me in my tracks for a double take or a breather. Yes, art is universally very relevant right now. Making art is a form of communication, a language, one of the most universal. Next question...

It's interesting that artists see art as an universal language but the general public seems to

have no inkling what the artist is trying to say. Do we need to explain and differentiate Art more or do we have to make it more accessible like the saying goes "when in Rom behave like the Romans."

Absolutely not. The artists' voice should speak its truth through the wares we concoct. If the message is to question, confuse, diffuse, estrange or form discovery for our viewer - so be it. Imagine if someone said that to Mark Rothko in the 40's. His swatches of bold flat color were their own punctuation. Someone out there will eventually get 'it' when time/place click. Not every work is made for or speaks to all people. Universality is earned within a delicate structure of social engagement and understanding, over time. Some might extend that this is historically the role of the museum in our culture. An artwork must stand on its own as an object or experience, formally or conceptually to be more universally experienced. But the copious viewer, the one drawn in closer, will engage and feel an intimate connection with the work in due time. Sometimes it can take years and years. It took me almost 20 to confront some of the work of Jean Michel Basquiat - now it's like a major force to be reckoned with.

Do you consider yourself an outsider artist?

I don't think that term is relevant though I've heard it tossed about often. Outside what? All artists are 'outsiders' to some extent. If they weren't they would be preaching to the converted, which best describes a hallmark card I suppose.

Does being an artist give you an inside view on your life by observing the world on the outside?

That's like a psychedelic question. Very vibratory!

What is the benefit or negative showing in alternative spaces outside the established gallery scene?

Showing anywhere is appropriate given the situation and circumstances. This changes based on curatorial thrust, theme, quantity vs. quality, and so many other factors. Some of the best shows I've seen have been in big old warehouse spaces and in-situ public situations. You just have to look at Olafur Eliasson's NYC Waterfalls to find the answer to that question, or perhaps one of Marilyn Minter or Felix Gonsales-Torres' billboards. The white walls of any institution can often just become a neutral space, and at other times bring another layer of value to a certain mindset. Both are as valid.How important in the long run is an audience as a validity what I mean is how satisfying is it to show your art to a very few in comparison to a museum show?Showing art should not be dependent on the four walls that often surround us. In my experience there's the potential for equal satisfaction around showing a project in a public park or within the context of an academic setting. The outcomes sometimes cross, whether in the form of documentation or public collections. Life is short, opportunities present themselves, grasp the roots and go....

Fame how about it for you?

I've danced with my own version of this oft distorted term. Fame is mistaken for celebrity these days. I don't have the hair or waistline for that. But in terms of 15 minutes, I'm working towards something more feature-length.

Is there any art movement which you feel attached to? If so, why?

I'm a post-post-post minimal modernist. LOL. Within the context of art movements I've continually referred back to a mélange of conceptualism and dada with a dash of fluxus (of course). But I have a certain affinity for specific artists who opened a big can of style whoop-ass of the world like Pollock, Duchamp, Stieglitz and Cezanne. I appreciate the many moods and methods that surfaced in the works by many artists from Mark Rothko to Paul Klee to Henri Cartier-Bresson to Sherrie Levine. Objects and environments by Yoko Ono, Ann Hamilton....peers like Carsten Nicolai, Steve Roden or Christian Marclay. I could go on...but that's a fair list don't ya think?

What about the issue of repetition by being forced into a style because of sell-ability andrecognisability issues? Is this the slow silent death for an artist or a survival strategy a way to make a living?

There are so many artists who become parodies of themselves after years of doing the same motif over and over again. Let's see - how about Wegman, Johns, Dines, even Warhol to a large extent. These artists grew a formula that became their signature (even if they didn't sign the actual work themselves). But even these artists worked to get there, to build something from experience, perfect a gesture, like a trademark. This seems to be something changing greatly in the art market. I recently saw some works by Alex Katz, for instance, and if you were to ask me the artist he may have been one of the last I would ever guess. From angular and definitive, stylized portraits of notables, to soft toned large landscapes are a stretch. Beautiful nonetheless. Now, if you chuck the Thomas Kinkades and Norman Rockwell’s of mall art, how would we balance good and evil?

Is their an element or message (political/social) that you want to adress with your art?

There's always a social-political subtext. You can make up your own, but never be afraid to ask; you may see a whole new picture.Is beauty in it self enough a statement for a piece of art to have a social impactor what is your opinion on this strong push towards more and more radical art?There is just not the same surgence of the radical in art these days. Occasionally something pops to the fore, but few and far between. In the larger push for international politics, motivation seems at an all-time low. Sure you see some artists using crude oil in the sculpture (Cal Lane, Andrei Molodkin), and American flags that have been reduced to neutral tones (Jack Daws, Horatio Law) but the days of Karen Finley filleting onions on her private parts for an auditorium, or people being shot for their work like Chris Burden seem few and far between. Perhaps we are 'post-shock'. In my opinion we just need to look to the land for our answers to where the shock and awe should be rightfully placed. Big businesses, corporations, governments have worked together in a pact of greed to rape the land. Artists of all types in the 60's would have been outraged, and banned together to change the tides, helping to normalize the earth. But these days it seems to take the power of celebrity to make (or fake) the general public understand that without something to walk on we'll all be lost in space.

What has been your expirience with the Portland art market/ artists?

After making the trek to Art Basel/Miami last year my bootstraps were tightened a notch. I'm satisfied to be involved with such a young and exciting gallery like NAAU where everything seems in the now. Ruth Ann Brown is part serious gallerist, part speculator, part philanthropist - taking appropriate and unexpected curatorial risks. It's where I belong. She offered me the generous 'Couture' stipend to showcase what I couldn't otherwise - at a certain level where I felt confident to be seen by the general public. The market is slight in comparison with LA where upon a recent visit, in comparison; one gallery hung 10 works, 6 of which had red dots (each going for $18K+). Portland is still the great incubator. I love working here, and for now plan to stay even though some of my closest artist friends (David Eckard, Harvest Henderson, Scott Wayne Indiana, Ryan Jeffery) have left in the past year. Some leave for graduate programs, others for career opportunities. That trend will surely continue, and new artists will move here, things will keep shifting. I welcome change.

What about the saturation factor? Is there a danger that the public will be overexposed to art or should an artist not care about the public?

I'm not sure I understand the saturation factor. Though, any artist who is a communicator will not want to alienate their entire audience. I'm trying to think about being 'overexposed' to art, like being drunk...and it sounds like something I'd like to be (even though I rarely toss a few back). Yes, you should create freely and develop work you can stand by if need be, but I see no danger in most expression - as long as its legal. And when it's not, well...I'll have to think about that some.Where do you go from being represented by a space like NAAU and having just finished an amazing exhibit?As long as I can make it here I can fail everywhere else! Sorry - that's a bastardization of a Sandra Bernhard quote. No, really, my plans are to export as much as possible. Recently I was commissioned to create work for a hotel chain as well as a record cover for the German sound artists, Telepherique. I have a whole new series of photographic work called 'DoubleExposure' which will trickle out into the world piecemeal. I have shows in Sweden, Ohio and Portland planned for 2009 and a few other surprises. I'm also included in the 'Collaborations' show at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (w/Hilary Pfeifer) for the second year running - I love this opportunity because I'm the least 'crafty' person alive. So, onward....

Where do you hope to be artistically 5 years from now?

Traveling with representation in a few other cities, potentially domesticated and living alongside the Pacific. Making larger scale work and still collaborating. Settled enough so I can break my entire music collection free the cardboard Uhaul boxes they've been in for years.
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