Carl Hammer Gallery proudly introduces Craig Norton to Chicago in his first solo exhibition here. Hailing from St. Louis, the self-taught Norton uses his art as a call for social activism using three-dimensional depictions of the realities of war, prejudice, aging, street conflict, physical and verbal abuse, family discord, etc. Uniquely, his socially minded constructions are a combination of drawings and collages layered on top of wood cut-outs, built into complex, panoramic wall sculptures. The human figure(s) serves as the focal point of each large installation. Hands and faces, images of which are taken from newspaper stories, history books and from Norton's own picture-taking, are drawn with expressive, almost photographic realism, and the figures themselves are clothed, paper-doll like, in garments fashioned from collaged wallpaper.
Norton sees himself and his art akin to being on a mission pointing out the failings of society and the people who are victimized within it. From actual interviews of the victimized to television news reports to film documentaries, his investigation leads to poignant portrayals which, in turn, become his art. Ultimately, from the process, the success of Norton's missionary-like zeal emerges from the expressive body language of his figures, creating for the viewer both a sense of awareness and empathy with them and their emotions. In her review of Norton's 2012 New York exhibition, NYTimes critic Roberta Smith wrote: But the tension, between the reportorial and the subjective, between the ordinary and the loopishly cartoonish, and above all between watching events unfold and being there, feeling them in all the madness and motion of life, is extraordinary.
In Dropping Mom Off At The Old Folks Home, Norton aptly portrays our human terror of getting old, and he touches us by identifying that, with getting old, there comes a resulting, growing loneliness and sense of worthlessness. While the artist poses no concrete solution to these or other social dilemmas, his art, by its frankness and compassion, allows us to honestly confront and respond to them.