Norsten's practice begins with his photographs, which form an ongoing visual diary. Like a digital sketchbook, he spontaneously captures commercial signs, materials, objects and posters. By taking words and pictures out of their original context and reframing them, Norsten opens up the possibilities of language. Words and discrete images, whether they are handmade or mechanically produced, aim for a direct and simplified deposit of information with the singular purpose of re-contextualizing the texts in a completely different system of communication.
The images present dialogues as expressed through the mundane detritus of objects, signs and language. The artist's ability to balance high and low creates an endlessly intriguing lens through which to view the works. The humble origins of his subjects are employed to investigate the esoteric tenets of modernist painting; and one prevents the other from becoming formally over determined, or too shrill in its cultural observance.
Ultimately, the paintings are formal exercises, which push the limits of mark-making, and relish the possibilities of painting. The paintings generate a fission by opposing rich, white grounds developed over time (it is worth noting that no two are the same), against more spontaneously rendered ‘subjects'. Although it could be said that the white surface is equally the work's subject, a fact which reveals itself over time.
Front transforms the animated weather diagrams from the local 6:00 news into a slim catenary, bisecting the canvas with one elegant gesture. Ceaseless, Boundless, Endless Joy corrupts the insincere sentiments of a greeting card by reproducing it in block letters written in masking tape. On closer inspection the tape is actually a trompe l'oeil feat of brush and paint. The most recent work in the show, titled JFK, reproduces a placard held by a member of the crowd watching President Kennedy's convoy in Dallas on November 22, 1963, which Norsten photographed from a video still from Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan". The hope in that sign, in retrospect, is as hollow as the aforementioned greeting card. And this text, made in Dallas, 1963 signifies something wholly different than the words painted here in 2008.
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of Todd Norsten: The Masterworks, a 98 page, soft cover book printed in full color. It is primarily a compendium of the diaristic photographs that inform all of Norsten's work, and also includes full page reproductions of the 7 paintings in the exhibition. It is available from the gallery for $30 postage paid.
Todd Norsten was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial Exhibition, and was recently the subject of solo exhibitions at Midway Contemporary Art in Minneapolis and Arario Gallery, Seoul, Korea, both accompanied by fully illustrated catalogues which are also available at the gallery. His work has also been on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 6pm. For more information or images please call 212-206-8710 or visit www.cohanandleslie.com