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NORTON WISDOM

February 1 - March 8, 2003 at Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica

by Mat Gleason


Start with a square, because almost every painting starts there. Imagine that everyone was once a square, as everyone was, and some of them went through the '60s and '70s, met John Altoon and Peter Voulkos, and were transformed into something besides a square. One of these 'some' was painter Norton Wisdom, who is no square no more.

But back to square one. Wisdom does the same simple thing with the square that Masaccio did in the 15th-century. He draws an easy diagonal line from each right angle of our square. Then he draws another square to connect these lines. Sure, sometimes they are a rectangle, but the end result is the simplest form of scientific linear perspective. And in this form of simplicity Wisdom delivers abundance.

Hold the thought of the square, because there is a whole other body of work. Far outside the realm of his current (or any traditional gallery-style) exhibition, Wisdom can be found doing performance painting, a backlit screen of plastic gets the brush, flat forms of mastodons and mermaids appear and mutate. Outpacing the huffing and puffing and stomping musicians, the artist hardly stops, although when he does, the image resting seems to be taking the break for him. He performs with living legend Llyn Foulkes at the Downtown L.A. Church of Art, as well as with big name rockstar types whose names have no place in a magazine of fine art.

Wisdom’s consistent linear square composition, you see, is not the square you see in your mind’s eye, it is a living dimensional rectangle, breathing with line and color. Electric without the trite neon, as alive and fluid as a performance painting, but frozen in time. His squares--he calls them Cloud Chambers--are like a photo of the busy street at night with the shutter open a long time, so the cars turn into a river of streaks of light. Conversely, the above described performance paintings are like watching the traffic for hours. But the result is the same thing. Wisdom paints energy encapsulated and released.

There isn't much to be said for consistency that your face in the mirror and your high school yearbook won't whisper in harmony. Wisdom's Cloud Chambers are like the same face revisited with subtle shifts and dramatic transformations occuring only when seen together. Same DNA, different decade. One set of four ninety degree angles is the same as the next until they are made different. The extent to which their similarity is still recognizable--after the application of individuated mark making on each--well, this is the artist's true poetic touch.


“Human Measure," Cloud Chamber
Series, 2002, o/c, 67 x 48".







“Baroque," Cloud Chamber
Series, 2002, o/c, 59 x 48".







“Untitled (Dark Green Center)," Cloud
Chamber Series, 2002, o/c, 56 x 48".






“Romantic Shift," Cloud Chamber
Series, 2002, o/c, 62 x 39".







“Morandi Chamber," Cloud Chamber
Series, 2002, o/c, 24 x 18".

Wisdom is in his fifth decade of painting his square, his Cloud Chamber, his melted linear perspective, his energized 15th-century reduction, his blueprint of what the '60s could have done for you had you, or any square, just been there; they are also his prescription of what art can still do for you now that you are there, so be there, this month, for an exhibition of decades and decades of the square, Norton Wisdom’s square, you wouldn’t want to be a square, so be there.