Norma Greenwood is a lovely artist who resides in New York City. Her paintings www.normagreenwood.com are sensual, warm and intriguing exercises on canvas. What inspires such work? Read on and find out.
“I like to think that when people look at my paintings, they see sensuality, beauty and how the objects speak to each other within the space. I want my work to be provocative and have a quality of mystery and draw the viewer in.”
MICHAEL: Hello Norma, I love your current series, "Interior Landscapes." The works are lovely, warm and inviting, yet I also feel that "light" and the "people" who we don't see in the paintings are somehow the main subjects of these paintings. The beds are almost like empty stages. Sort of Hopper-like. I don't know. Your thoughts?
NORMA: Hi Michael, Thank you for this opportunity. I'm so happy to know you enjoy my work. This interview comes at a perfect time for me; reflecting on my art, life and where I want to go next with the work. While the "Interior Landscape" series is about the light, they’re also metaphors for relationships. Several years ago, I painted a series of glass saltshakers. I thought of them as narratives about couples in relationships. My intent in painting objects is to remove the thing from its preconceived associations and imbue it with something new. I love that you mention Hopper and "empty stages" prior to Interior Landscapes. I did a series of Cityscapes that really could be viewed that way. They were about urban change and loss, a frozen moment.
MICHAEL: So, you're humanizing objects while most people objectify humans. That's a nice switch. When did you first get this idea ... using objects as metaphors for relationships? Some people might see this in your work without prompting, but not all.
NORMA: Doesn’t most art use the object as metaphor? I’ve always been intrigued by Vermeer‘s interiors and use of objects. It seems like the narrative is suggested by the objects in the paintings. For example, the jug in “The Milkmaid” is volumetric and sensual. It is an obvious metaphor for a woman in shape and function. And In fact, the jug may be the actual subject of this painting, not the maid pouring from it. Interpreting the possible meaning of the objects in a work of art is part of the fun. It’s like unraveling a secret code.
I like to think that when people look at my paintings, they see sensuality, beauty and how the objects speak to each other within the space. I want my work to be provocative and have a quality of mystery and draw the viewer in. As for objectifying people, I think it’s astonishing that the media is still so stuck in the old 20th century ideas. We live in a time when the landscape of gender identification is changing and is increasingly being seen as a matter of preference and sexuality as an expression of individuality.
MICHAEL: The way that you use and create light in your work is very intriguing. Is the process enjoyable or difficult?
NORMA: I am beguiled by the play of light and dark - the shapes and patterns created by intense shadows on an object. Light, dark and planes are the essence of an image and once they reveal themselves, the painting almost makes itself! Sometimes the process feels like developing a print in the darkroom.
I’ve been a painter for most of my life, but in the 1990s, I studied at the International Center of Photography for several years and worked as a free-lance photographer, mainly doing corporate events. During that time, I became fascinated with color printing from negatives. Now when I look back, it seems like I spent months on end in the darkroom at ICP. However, the experience sharpened my ability to discern subtle color differences and understand how slight changes in the light can alter the meaning of an image.
The way I compose, crop an image on canvas is directly related to the way things look through the lens. My painting practice starts with research through my own photographs; it’s a kind of meditation. Yet the photograph is only there for inspiration, like a kite that flies and morphs into something new and surprising.
MICHAEL: What kind of environment do you need while you work? A quiet room? Music or TV? Can you multi-task while you paint? People text while driving. Why not eat while painting?
NORMA: My dream studio as a young fine arts student at Hunter College was a lot like the studio I have today, so I count myself as very lucky. My studio is light-filled, uncluttered and mellow. Located in the heart of Manhattan, it’s in a neighborhood that’s noisy, fun and filled with surprises; a wonderful change from the quiet of the studio. I made the decision not to do any computer-related work in the studio and keep phone calls to a minimum so I do all that stuff in the morning and aim for three to four hours studio time in the afternoon. I own a vintage KLH radio that is usually tuned to the jazz station – it’s good company. You’ll find me multi-tasking waiting on a line, on a bus, watching TV, but not while I paint. As for painting with food, are you kidding?
MICHAEL: Haha! What does living in the heart of New York mean for you? Is New York the center of the art world? Do you feel that you're at an advantage over artists is Des Moines or Charleston or Phoenix, for example?
NORMA: I've lived in New York my all of my life, so I can’t really imagine what it’s like to be an artist in Phoenix. Travel has always been very important to me; contact with art from other cultures has had an influence on my work. My first trip to Japan introduced me to an aesthetic so imprinted on the entire culture; you can’t help but absorb it. The experience still flows in surprising ways, especially in my collages.
Wherever you live today, you can be connected to other artists and the art world. Images representing any and every culture are instantly available. Yet I feel that living in New York offers something unique. Though no longer the center of the art world, New York is the world’s multi-cultural center – a place where inventive energy seems to spring from the sidewalks. As an artist, you soak it up; it’s nourishment for the creative spirit.
MICHAEL: Very cool. Artists have to be so many things these days. How do you multitask without it affecting the quality of your work?
NORMA: Multitask? During the years I raised a family, I always found time to make art. And after the supper dishes were cleared away, the dining room became my studio. My husband brought home samples of industrial materials like sheets of tin plate and copper foil, perfect for construction and collage. I learned soldering and made small sculptures from silver wire. I also made paintings using acrylic on unprimed canvas. It was an exciting time.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world and how it functions? What would you change if you could?
NORMA: The art world is in a state of flux. By that I mean huge changes are taking place in the way artists find their market because of the Internet. If you are a skilled and persistent promoter, you can carve out a good career without ever approaching a gallery. So there are lots more ways to get the work seen by huge numbers of potential collectors. Art bloggers like you Michael have done so much to change the way artists get seen and recognized.
Still, gallery shows, openings are an important part of my art life. It’s social, a way to network and an important way to keep current on art, artists and trends. It’s important to me to check out shows in neighborhoods other than Chelsea. There’s so much new art happening in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. I feel the direction the art world is taking is more positive, even more inclusive especially of women and older artists.
MICHAEL: Indeed. You know, shouldn't there be a happy medium between what the average art loving person can afford to pay for original art and what the artist is willing to sell his/her work for? I have an entire, large collection based on this concept which seems to elude the entire art world.
NORMA: I can’t speak for the art world, just my own approach. Previous sales and exhibition history have a lot to do with pricing a work of art. Most of my work is oil on canvas, smaller paintings usually more affordable than large canvases. Since each painting is a unique approach to an idea, it can sometimes be very labor intensive and challenging. Often I need a period of time to distance myself from a painting after it is complete in order to decide if it‘s entirely successful and then might even go back into the work to change something. As a result, pricing the work can be quite complicated. In the end, I want the work to be seen and appreciated so I am very happy when it finds a home where it will mean something to the collector. Alex Katz once said that a painting could either wind up on someone’s wall or in the trash. Harsh words, but I always keep them in the back of my mind.
MICHAEL: Finally Norma, What do you want your body of work to say about you and your life?
NORMA: I think of my art as a bridge between being, imagination and experience. We are all part of such inconceivable marvel and beauty and making art is my way of expressing the wonder of present memories.
I love paint. The whole process is a kind of magic, creating an illusion of dimension on a flat plane is a journey into the unexpected, a surprise. “Interior Landscapes,” my current series of paintings of beds and pillows, conveys associations of intimacy and relationships as well as solitude. Transparent veils of color and sensuous, voluptuous shapes intensify these ideas. The subject is both metaphysical, bringing up associations with dreams and the life we live when asleep and anthropological; traces of that life we lived in our slumber which are left behind in the morning on the unmade bed. Sometimes I like to think the unmade bed captures the shadows left behind by dreams.
Throughout my career, the real source of my inspiration has been beauty of color and especially, form. The essence of everything I do is rooted in my love of creating something exquisite through experimentation with process and media. I can become totally absorbed in the challenge of learning new skills and owning them.
I come from a family of innovators and artists and as heir to this legacy, the opportunity to develop my art and create something that speaks to others is essential for me, an important component of creating art. Sharing my work is vital and part of the art-making process. I am very fortunate to live a creative life, possibly my work will end up in a place where it might inspire and encourage. Who knows?
MICHAEL: Norma, this has been a great pleasure. Thanks for chatting.
NORMA: Thanks for the opportunity to participate. I gained new insight from the process. P.S. - Love to have you visit my studio whenever you are in the neighborhood. After going through this process, I feel we are friends.
MICHAEL: Thanks Norma. Indeed we are.
Check out Norma and her work at www.normagreenwood.com.