TJ Norris is a Portland based interdisciplinary artist, curator and writer. He recently received a grant, his first, from the Regional Arts and Culture Council to enable him to do a complete redesign of tjnorris.net which will be released in mid March. In the process, he has dropped his public service blogging project, ‘unBlogged’, after three years of publishing. He talks about striking a balance between creating and curating, the differences between the East and West coasts and gives a window into his creative process.
LN: Where are you from originally and what brought you to Portland?
TJ: I grew up in Boston and the outlying regions of New England. So much history and tradition, so much of that old Irish Catholic spirit! In the interim of the years I also lived in Nova Scotia while on an international exchange program in Halifax. I also briefly lived in both Washington, DC and Brooklyn, NY. Getting to the West Coast took me nearly ten years. I longed to be near the Pacific and tested the waters of both the Bay Area and Seattle before I found the charm of Portland too hard to ignore.
LN: In addition to being a multidisciplinary artist you are a very active curator. Is it difficult finding time to do both?
TJ: Not really, however that’s where the power of Libra kicks in, but it is a delicate balance for sure – the time commitment aspect. As an active studio artist reliant on our cultural economy I must budget the release of any creative project, and right now I’ve taken a short step back from most of my freelancing in favor of producing new work for exhibition. It feels like a proper break. But when my cravings to write or put together a show flare up there’s not much I can do except act on it.
A renowned writer for Art in America once chortled to me that one cannot split time between an active studio practice and still wear a curator’s garb. It stopped me in my tracks for a moment and called to mind artists who’ve been at this crossroads like Alfred Stieglitz, John Baldessari, Liam Gillick, Jeff Koons – the list goes on. Check out this piece: CuratorsinContext.ca.
At first I completely poo-poo’d his comment, and still do in large regard, but the key of success here is the allowance of time. I guess after owning my own gallery (Soundvision) and curating for several institutions (Tufts University, SUNY/Binghamton Art Museum, Linfield College) I’ve grown accustomed to the academic head cocking that comes with drawing outside the lines. The greater balance can be perceived as a gray area between the obvious overlaps and potential conflicts – I’m still willing to risk it after nearly three decades exploring the genre.
LN: So, it sounds like you are switching your focus to doing more art making. Does that mean you don’t have any upcoming curatorial plans?
TJ: I’m taking a respite except for the traveling ‘SQFT’ show which has been through Portland and Boise; though the intent is to get it to cities in WA, BC, MT and NoCA before putting it to bed. The Sun Valley Center for the Arts has confirmed to be its final venue in mid 2011. The exhibition will include up to 75 artists by its completion.
LN: Your curatorial/artistic experience spans both the East and West coasts. How do the two art scenes compare?
TJ: I find the East Coast a bit edgier. There seems to be a heavier reliance on social practices, color and form from here to LA. In cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Boston and New York you experience more interdisciplinary conceptual art, a combination of genres. And while these generic observations are fleeting, under it all, painters are still painting realistic landscapes alongside both oceans in the infinite quest for an ideal.
I remember a show in the late 80’s that broke the mold which was curated by Dana Friis-Hansen called “LA Hot & Cool” at MIT’s List Visual Art Center. It seemed curious and somewhat shocking at the time. It made a statement. For some reason it seemed explorative, of the “new” new. Today, to really rock the audience one must use a combination of traditional process and a deeper exploration of technology.
LN: I can definitely see evidence of that sort of combination of traditional process and exploration of technology in several of your photographs. I can also see sculptural concerns of form and mass played out in your photographs. How do you decide when an idea needs to be a photograph and when it needs to manifest as something else?
TJ: Form just makes sense of itself somehow. Though it makes me think of how I’ve really gotten into the groove of the Northwest. Maybe it’s a secret recipe, a combination of what you don’t see and just letting things simply be. I like to experiment with the aspect of chance – it is very important to my process, especially in the digital era, without contact sheets! Although developing something of physicality, something 3D or installation-based dictates itself often by nature of the presentation space. I love playing on the repetition and echo of architecture.
LN: The images in your work are bold and graphic depictions of what seems to be a personal exploration of opposites: internal and external, natural and man-made, private and public. Some of your compositions are meditative in their minimalism. Can you talk about your artistic influences?
TJ: My greatest influences are simply incidental. There’s nothing better than looking at a sudden reflection from a new angle or the way fog erases everything in its wake. The public and private, indeed.
LN: Congrats on your new representation with Beppu Wiarda Gallery. I understand that you are slated for a solo show. Do have any ideas brewing for that?
TJ: Yes, the show is scheduled for 10/10. My birthday is on the tenth. Initially counting, geometries and lots of numbers floated about, as did titles like “Random” which may have stuck. I’m excited to work with Gail, Stan and Stephanie. They have been incredibly supportive of my vision since we met a few years back.
Recently I moved my studio into a rural area outside of Portland and am developing some new ideas for a series of images. I’ve shot about 300 initial test shots that are under review, but probably won’t use any of them. There’s got to be a clean way to visually dissect three visual planes at once, yes? The Velvet’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” comes to mind.
TJ has several exciting projects in the works. He has collaborated with NY artist Scott Wayne Indiana to create a limited edition, glow-in-the-dark t-shirt. The shirt is soon to be released by Plazm Thread . Next month his photographs will be included in the Red Dot Art Fair in New York. TJ is also working on a collaboration with composer Leif Elggren which will be held in Stockholm. His work can be seen in Portland at Beppu Wiarda Gallery.