C. Michael Norton

Artist Q&A with C. Michael Norton

C. Michael Norton was born in North Dakota in 1951, and has been living and working in New York since 1987. He received an MA in 1979 in metal fabrication, and an MFA in mixed media plastic arts from San Jose State University in 1981. His large-scale abstract paintings echo the cacophony of urban life today. The competing surface tensions confront each other, creating a visual orchestration of discordant and harmonic tonalities. The compositions, resembling visual soundscapes, explore the notion of depth, both spatial and psychological.

He settled down permanently in Tribeca in 1992. The struggle to achieve maturity in painting came to fruition after the World Trade Center was destroyed in 2001. The morning of September 11, the artist was in his studio when he heard the first plane hit. He immediately went to the street with his wife to see what happened. As he rounded the corner on West Broadway, looking ten blocks south just after the second tower was hit, he asked his wife, “How the fuck are we going to fix that?” This question remains central to his critical thinking today.

“Outside Time”, molded acrylic on linen, 55 x 91 x 9 in | 140 x 230 x 23 cm, 2020-2021

Who is your favorite artist of all time?

Vincent Van Gogh

How did you become a professional artist?

By default, I was unequipped to pursue any other vocation or profession. Although I love history, storytelling, music, I never found a way to articulate myself in those professions or disciplines. It was visual art all the way if I could see it I could do it. I climbed on the backs of many other artists through manipulating their techniques and their visions early on, but I eventually found my own path and entered my mature phase.

What are the influences and inspirations in your work?

Inspirations come from tactile or anthropomorphic objects, sculpture, textured painting, geographic locations, organic shapes and formations, and natural and unnatural color. Conceptual concepts that defined the range of human feelings and intentions. 

Influencers are music, any sound, something that strikes me that defines me in the moment. Music can be classical, experimental, rock, jazz, rap, or any form of musical expression or non-expression. Sound can be something as simple as metal on metal clinging or scrapping, a shout, or even a murmur. Mythic storytelling from ancient to futuristic, the human imagination, an ongoing quest for spiritual healing is always going to affect me.

How is your work different than everything else out there?

The difference in an artist’s work, one artist to the other, it’s like our DNA. There is only a minute percentage of space in the distance between individuals in that small space, that  distance is where I cultivate my individuality as an artist. 

When is a piece finished for you?

When it exists without my interference or influence. 

C. Michael Norton, photo by Marina Tychinina.

What’s different about your current body of work?

My painting now comes out of a sculptural relief on stretched linen.  I don’t use paint brushes I use mud knives, sculptural mold-making with acrylic gel, brilliant thick color, and nuanced anthropomorphic images that lay on the outskirts of abstraction. These sculptural paintings differ from my work of the 90s which was more figurative but still abstract, and from the 80s where I taught myself how to paint after a career as a sculptor. The work of the 2000s into 2010 to 2016 were more classic abstractions where I pulled color with the knives across the surface of the linen to achieve different blocks and angles of color, colors relating to each other through multiple layers and pulls. The new work incorporates all of these art making methods–which becomes more visceral, physical, sensual, and tactile among other sensations–poetry, and my own spiritual healing quest.

Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career?

Struggling originally to get my MFA, which a single professor had made a torturous objective, I accomplished it. Then working with harvested organic material such as bamboo, reeds, tree branches bonded together with cardboard, raffia, wire, plaster, and paint to make my original sculptures after graduate school. I lived and worked in California, France, and Italy mostly in the 80s and early 90s. I had moved to New York form the Bay Area in California in 1987 and travel back-and-forth between France, California, New York City, Montreal, and Italy permanently settling in Tribeca in 1993. Getting involved with a group of New York artists including the woman I married, artist Ruth Hardinger, with whom I built a loft that has studios and living space for both of us. I slowly climbed into my unique way of making art.

What’s coming up for you?

I started to write poetry that informs my new painting. This new direction came out of my spiritual work. In my studio I’m just putting one foot in front of the other. I’m listening to the conversation that’s coming to me from my work, trying not to contradict the flow of that dialogue, listening intently to what the work is saying to me.

 What advice would you give to an artist just starting out today?

If you are equipped to do another financially rewarding profession do that in tandem with your art making. You will never regret being financially stable as you delve into your personal nature as an artist.

Who are some of your favorite under appreciated artists that you don’t think get enough attention?

Two artists that I would recommend to anyone reading would be Ruth Hardinger and Jeffrey Simpson.

“Get Rid Of The Demons And The Angels Will Fly Away As Well”, molded acrylic on linen, 90 x 72 x 8 in | 229 x 183 x 20 cm, 2020-2021

To learn more about Michael and his work, please visit www.CMichaelNorton.com.