I met Norbert online not too long ago. To me, his work is very simple, serene and charming, but don’t let that fool you. Norbert has emerged from an artistic struggle of sorts and he says he has reached new levels of creativity these days www.norbertmarszalek.com. Read on and get the story straight from the source.
MICHAEL: Hey Norbert, Love your work. I hate to compare artists, but your work reminds me a little of Milton Avery. Is he an influence or is this all just YOU doing YOU?
NORBERT: Thanks Michael. I don't mind if Milton Avery's name comes up concerning my work. Avery's simplistic, graphic compositions and use of color are sublime. Overall, I'm really interested in creating a painting that moves and that has energy. I don't want the paint just sitting there being flat. The paint and the way it’s applied should be part of the narrative. With that being said, two artists who have been influential are Richard Diebenkorn and George Bellows. They both had such explosive brushwork. It's interesting that you bring up, "... is this all just YOU doing YOU?" Something that has changed recently for me is that I am painting more intuitively now. Unknowingly, I must have been painting way too much with my head/mind because now I feel I am painting from my heart/soul and I do see and feel a difference. I actually do feel that "I" am really painting for the first time.
MICHAEL: When you were painting with your mind and "head" was it about competition or trying to please others?
NORBERT: I am a highly competitive person, but I don't think I was ever trying to please others. I definitely wanted people to respect my draftsmanship though; that was important to me. When other artists spoke about their "feelings" as they worked, I could never relate. My philosophy was, “I go to the studio to work. I punch in and out. If I'm painting a nose, a hand, whatever, what does it matter about "feelings"? A nose is a nose.” My job was to paint it, render it on canvas. I created straightforward narrative paintings. My work came from my "head".
MICHAEL: So, you were going through the motions, literally?
NORBERT: I believe my paintings lacked an emotional charge. Others may have seen passion in my work, but I definitely wasn't feeling it while I was creating it. Over the years, that began to bother me. I knew there had to be more to painting than just the mechanical repetition of putting paint to canvas. I kept falling back to the "skill" of drawing, of painting and using it as an excuse. It was keeping me from exploring, really exploring painting. I didn't want to let go of the mechanics. "Expressing" myself seemed daunting. I should also mention that I used photographs for reference. I would set up a scene and shoot different perspectives and then use about 3 to 5 photos to create a composition. To me, the painting was created in my "head" way before I actually painted it. It was a safe way to proceed. The idea was there and I just had to execute it. Looking back now, it doesn't seem like a lot of fun. It seems stale like factory work, punch in, punch out. Recently, I made a conscious choice to let go of the mechanics and the use of photography. I now paint from memory, invention and direct observation. It has definitely expanded my view of painting. I create the painting as I go. Elements are painted in while others are painted out. Strictly intuitive. I now "feel" my way around the painting. There's a lot of freedom. The actual paint surface gets a voice too. The paint isn't there just to depict something, it's applied to express.
MICHAEL: Wow. And so, do you think this is paving the way for big and wild abstraction for you?
NORBERT: Well, I worked abstractly for a brief period when I was younger, though I never really had the sense for it. I admired other abstract painters, de Kooning being one of my favorites, but couldn't really get the feel myself. The abstraction idea has always been with me, but I always went back to pure representational painting. Now that I have broken free of that mental hurdle and have loosened up my way of working and thinking, I definitely see working abstractly in the future, though I wouldn't say big and wild. For now, I'm very engrossed in what I'm doing. Currently, my single figures in interiors and teacup and teapot still life paintings are keeping me really busy. Those subject matters have always been close to me, but I have such a different perspective on them now. I have a lot more investigation to do. And I should add that my "heart" is really in it!
MICHAEL: Your paintings have both a wistful quality and they're very simple and almost elementary. Is this intentional?
NORBERT: Yes, very much so. One of my main objectives for this new body of work was to break down the essence of painting, narrative painting. I want to strip away the excess and get to the core elements, the needed elements that make a good painting; a good story while also letting the actual paint have its say too. Plasticity in motion. I want to create just enough energy before it turns chaotic. I'm also working smaller. My largest canvas is 16" x 20". You have a built-in "wow" factor when working large. I want to get that same "wow" factor while working small. So far, I am really liking the small sizes. Also, I used to work in series; there was a beginning and an end usually consisting of about 15 paintings. Looking back, working in series now seems kind of limiting and stifling. Now I have more freedom, one painting directly feeds off the next without an end in sight.
MICHAEL: You've mentioned freedom a couple of times now. Isn't it interesting that no matter what you have, including love and money, it doesn't matter without the freedom.
NORBERT: Yes, freedom is paramount. Physical freedom, mental freedom and freedom when it comes to creativity. I didn't realize it, but over the years I was building these restrictive ideas on what painting is. Not painting in the broad sense, but how I personally created a painting. I was limiting myself; I never "let go" is the best way to describe it. Again, the work may not have shown the restrictiveness, but it was the way I was feeling. Now I am "letting go" and painting is such a new and wonderful experience.
MICHAEL: Do you feel that artists should be concerned about where their work historically fits in the evolution of art? Or ... Should the work really be personal?
NORBERT: There is no "Or". The work should be personal (unique) AND every artist should be very concerned about where their art historically fits in. One cannot make art without acknowledging the canon of art history. Artists need to build on the past to actualize a more provocative future. It's not about repeating, but about adding to and expanding art history. Simply put, to be part of art history one needs to understand art history.
MICHAEL: What role does environment play in your work? You live in Chicago which is a cool art town. Does the culture there help you?
NORBERT: Chicago does have a lot of things going on. It's also filled with steadfast artists. I think Chicago and its artists fight that "Second City" complex which either makes us stronger or cranky. Overall, we are all influenced by our surroundings in one way or another. I am influenced by Chicago in more of a “working class” sort of way. Remember what I said before; punch in, punch out. I was born, raised and still live in Chicago and come from a working class family. My father was in construction, then a butcher, bartender and ended up in a tool and die shop and my mother stayed home and raised the kids. It has to do with work ethic. Chicago, as any large city, has its pockets of different artists doing unique and diverse things and that's the beauty of living in a large city … you get to experience so much. Chicago does keep me motivated in fighting the good fight.
MICHAEL: It doesn't sound like you come from an artistic family per se. How were you exposed to art?
NORBERT: One of my older brothers got into drawing and painting at an early age. He was very talented. I admired his work and loved looking through his high school art books. That's where I became aware of paintings like Stag at Sharkey's - Bellows, Nighthawks - Hopper, Starry Night - Van Gogh. The Old Guitarist - Picasso. Those works made an impression on me that I never lost. My brother gave it up after high school, but I kept going. In the early 70s, artists like Warhol, Picasso and Dali were celebrities who made the talk show rounds. I remember seeing Dali on the Merv Griffin Show (or maybe it was Dick Cavett, but whatever). Visual artists seemed cool to me back then. They got around, they were accessible. Visual artists today definitely influence our society, but not in that same sort of "celebrity" way. Does Jeff Koons do talk shows? Or I should restate, Do talk shows want Jeff Koons as a guest?
MICHAEL: You just hit it. Isn't it frustrating how a lot of people have no real clue about the true value of art in society? That's one of the main reasons why we're talking right now.
NORBERT: Well, they are not teaching art or what it means to be creative in grammar schools anymore. There is so much more design all around us than ever before, but people don't understand the origins, which in turn I think makes them unappreciative of it. People just see it as wallpaper, albeit well designed wallpaper. Hey, people and wallpaper; personification at its finest. Yes, a lot of people don't have a clue about the true value of art and culture. Funny thing is that art and culture make us human.
MICHAEL: Finally, Given all that, where do you think art is going and how do you fit in?
NORBERT: Art seems to be getting away from object making and heading toward what I consider event planning. The universities and MFA programs have a lot of influence with that, but they also need to fill their programs and classes with paying customers so there is plenty of pseudo-intellectualizing of art being offered which is much easier to sell than object making. The next generations can look back and make sense of what is happening now. For me, some of the art being produced is interesting, but there is a whole lot of it which is plain silly. Painting will always be. The way I fit in is by trying to make successful paintings. Thank you Michael for this interview. I've really enjoyed it!
MICHAEL: So did I Norbert. Thanks.
Would you like to see Norbert’s work for yourself? Check out his website at www.norbertmarszalek.com.