Ron Norman's intricate and detailed graphite drawings explore concepts of death, surrealism, classical still life, and oddities. We asked a few questions about his upcoming Modern Eden Gallery exhibition: Vacation to Catatonia.
Interview by Waiton Farrell
WF: Hi Ron. How are you doing during shelter-in-place? Has this time in solitude been beneficial to your work?
RN: My chosen vocation has always kept me pretty isolated anyway, so very little difference.
WF: What inspires the concepts for your graphite creations?
RN: Sometimes when I see a particular object I make up little stories about that object in my mind. I will add other, often incongruous, objects until a certain psychological connection takes place and the story becomes revealed. Other times I already have the idea flashing complete in my mind, and I just need to gather all the objects in.
WF: Can you provide some insight into the iconography and allegories you include in your layouts? Is there a theme that you most enjoy returning to in your work?
RN: Thematically, I like to combine the known world and the unseen world. Any object or group of objects that enable me to convey that certain message is mostly where I like to be. I do like memento mori and traditional still life work.
WF: When working from still life, do you assemble each scene or collage them together over a period of time?
RN: I do both. Sometimes I have all the objects in front of me already, and when I use my imagination I can make stories out of them. Other times, I will have a specific story already imagined and then I must go out and collect objects.
WF: You return to themes of memento mori throughout your work, which are particularly striking in graphite. How did you decide that this was the ideal medium in which to capture your vision?
RN: I have always preferred black and white movies to colour movies. They always seem so much more mysterious to me. As I began studying still life, and then beginning some early drawings, I realized the graphite was giving me precisely the same feeling as those old movies did. Then I realized that sometimes, colour can sometimes trivialize a work. Monochromatic drawings allow each element to rise or fall on its own, therefore possibly people are able to see deeper into the story as it unfolds.
WF: Which artists inspired you as you developed your unique surrealist style?
RN: Rene Magritte, Aaron Bohrod. Magritte for his insane bending of space and time. Bohrod for simply being my favourite still life artist. You might add the photographers, Diane Arbus, Joel Peter Witkin, and Lauren Simonutti as also being major inspirations to me.
WF: In this time of virtual interaction through social media, how do you stay accessible to your collectors and fans?
RN: I have a page on DeviantArt and I'm part of the DeBeal artist group on facebook.
WF: Which piece from this show did you particularly enjoy working on?
RN: Fallen is perhaps one of my favourites because it incorporates found objects and a funny story about "War in Heaven." I love all of the Christian mythology about angels and devils and battles in heaven, so this is a sort of whimsical piece. You have a young Magritte looking very shocked at what he thinks is one demon pushing another little demon off of the ledge. You have, on the wall, my drawing of an etching by Eugene Delecroix. The whole title should be, "Fallen, Or Was He Pushed?" "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven"???
WF: Is there a specific message you would like to communicate to viewers of this collection, or do you prefer to leave your work open to interpretation?
RN: I NEVER like to get in the way of the viewer discovering what stories are contained in my work. "An artist can no more talk about his own work, as a plant can discuss horticulture." - Jean Coteau
BY EDGAR ALLAN POE
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—
Vacation to Catatonia debuts Saturday, August 8 at Modern Eden Gallery.