Norton Wisdom

NORTON WISDOM calls himself an anti-war activist before an artist or performer, and following his studies at Berkeley, he also had a whole career as a decorated and legendary coastal lifeguard.

Despite being a student and lifelong practitioner of painting, he’s spent the last decade or so focusing on his performance art, taking his live-painting improv act on the road in collaborations with musicians like Banyan, Lili Haydn, Nels Cline and Llyn Foulkes. But the political and frequently sexed-up pictures resulting from the live shows are just the most public part of Wisdom’s story. He’s dedicated his career to exploring the infinite possibilities of an abstract structure, the proscenium/rectangle and the way its five-part shape yields endless variations. Since the late 1960s, Wisdom has been tirelessly, unendingly rendering this shape in pure color, expressively distressed surfaces, and collages made with images both found and cannibalized from his own canvases. This is in pursuit of a practice he first undertook way back up in the Bay Area, when he experienced an epiphany in which he envisioned a solo, steady, private studio practice as a form of peaceful, Buddhist-inflected social protest. He still paints every day.

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West Coast postmodernism