Norm Kirby has had other solo exhibits before, but this was his first closing party. “I sold a lot of the art at this show, so having a closing seemed like a good idea,” he said. More than a dozen well wishers, fellow artists, friends and curiosity seekers came to bid farewell to this rare exhibition of one of Jersey City’s rising visual talents.
A some time street artist – he takes credit for the BinnyOwl, although there are some other Dislocations street art sightings that he was probably responsible for – and even a minimalist/muralist – Norm is a distinctive illustrator, and this exhibit showcased his range of mediums – ink, pencils, stencils and wire as well as his very clever range of subject manner – self portraits, nudes, domestic scenes, city-scapes, interiors, office supplies and even a rock band.
Yes, the list of mediums, you read correctly.
He works in wire.
Thermostat wire to be precise.
According to Norm, he was puttering around his grandparent’s house and found some wire in the garage and after forming it into one of his sketches an idea was born. A visit to a hardware store led to the discovery that thermostat wire holds a shape and comes in a better color selection. The “wire drawings” start as sketches, mainly from life form drawing classes, then he “traces”the sketch with the wire. The wire sketches – technically, sculptures – that were framed utilized small pins that affix the wire to foam board, the framing actually creates a shadow effect as well as a hint of movement.
The work amuses.A humanism that is both optimistic and romantic seems evident yet there is also a realism – his bodies are not idealized forms; imperfections, such as bits of flab or lack of musculature, are included – a compassionate realism that enhances the work’s intrinsic warmth. The work is funny and touching, you can’t help but smile when you see it. Even the nod to satire – a silk-screened –actually it’s a repetitive series of stencils – replica of Andy Warhol famous, multi-toned self portraits, with Norm’s bewildered visage replacing the more recognizable celebrity – has a palitable melancholy.
Equally notable as the resulting experience of the art is how little is used to achieve the desired impact. His illustrations are minimalist – sparse and squiggly lines -- and while often funny, the work can genuinely be moving, conveying a depth of emotion as well as depth of space. Rarely does so little invoke so much.
Which brings me back to his range. While the simplicity seems an obvious strategy in a picture of a nude couple in a sexual embrace with aggressive undertones (notice the fingers clutching a throat), it’s a more counter-intuitive accomplishment in a two color sketch of the (new) Yankee Stadium. All the field of dreams clichés come to mind:the roar of the crowd, the smell the hot dogs, the verdant vastness of the outfield, the angular gleam of the Manhattan skyline visible above the Technicolor scoreboard and upper rows. No one can dispute that the drawing is a complete and satisfying depiction of everything that is baseball, summer and the Bronx stadium. Then you realize how few lines are used – which makes you further realize how each line is deliberate and immensely purposeful – you can’t help but marvel at the artistry.
The two week show was hosted by Made with Love, the artisan bakery and café, on Jersey Avenue (early blog here). Celeste Governanti, proprietor of Made with Love, contacted Norm after seeing some pieces in a group show. They had never met until he came to hang the art on the brick walls of her establishment, which indicates that her interest was due to the art itself and not an outgrowth of J.C. art scene networking.
Art Galleries have been popping up in cafes, bars and warehouses for a while now; it’s a commonplace occurrence in many urban areas and now is tightly woven into the texture of Jersey City life. But most of our repurposed galleries, while well intentioned, are badly lit.They’re either so dark that flashlights should be distributed so the art can be adequately viewed or the lighting is so bright and harsh that the art is awash in glare. Made With Love’s lighting system was soft and dreamy, the perfect complement to Norm Kirby’s witty warmth.