Todd Norsten | We are Someone Else




Schiavo Zoppelli Gallery is pleased to present We are Someone Else, the new solo show by American painter Todd Norsten (1967, Minneapolis, USA) at the gallery.

Norsten finds meaning, humour and beauty in the everyday. Observing and appropriating text and images from street signs, billboards, graffiti and objects he encounters in the rural prairies of Minnesota or the urban underbrush of New York, ranging from the apocalyptic to the celebratory, the poignant to the obtuse, the artist tells us about hidden communities and worlds. In the age of social media, these naïve and quaint, unkempt and handmade signs seem to belong to a bygone era but retain their authenticity. The physical qualities of the signs he works on are as important to the artist as the messages themselves. He meticulously reproduces simple characters, irregular spacing and alignment of letters, glossy or matte surfaces, layering printing inks for texture, stenciling and collage. He creates superbly realised versions of these, but without the urgency of the originals, given by the human need to communicate, to leave a mark and create a universal, direct and popular meaning. In this exercise Norsten highlights humanity's vital need for expression and connection while revealing the instability, paradoxes and contaminations hidden in the signs and images he produces. He delves deeply into the realm of the visual language of signs bringing it, with irony and disenchantment, into a new context (painting) to persuade us of the unreality of the whole world and the vagaries of the imagination.

"I wanted to make things that were direct and no bullshit. I want the work to be as directly about being human and without the artificiality of artfulness that can often get in the way. If there is a subject of my work it is the need for humans to communicate, whether it’s through the stuff we call art, graffiti, bumper stickers, billboards T shirts or any form of human expression."

Norsten's work, which is so profoundly linked to man, to social and political contingencies and the modes of expression they generate, has inevitably been penetrated and permeated by the events that have taken place in recent years, especially in America. The Trump era, the Covid-19, the assassination of George Floyd have not only moved consciences in different directions, but have introduced their own vocabulary, their own lexicon, made up also of precise symbologies, new awareness and insuperable dichotomies.
This turmoil, of society as much as of our interiority, finds its pictorial counterpart in the series of Hand Paintings: the hand with the index finger pointing, signalling the direction in which to go, abandons its reassuring connotation, to lose itself in a twisted envelope until it finds itself blaming an equally lost twin.

Norsten in portraying life, in its grotesque beauty, now narrates a world turned upside down, at times sublime, but moving into the absurd (Sublime/Ridiculous, 2021), in which: "We want to live but we die, we want to know but there is so little that we can know. Life is fun and delightful and simultaneously ugly and difficult.” And in a world where the high road seems to be lost, the human being risks losing references and certainties (Right/Wrong/We'll See, 2012), obsessively waits for the (positive?) final resolution (Fine, 2021), questions himself about his own precise identity (Birth, Self Discovery. Death, 2021), only to surrender to the fact that there is no univocal answer (We are someone Else, 2021). That it is not always possible to divide and recognise oneself through antithetical pairs, as we have often become accustomed to reading the other in these two years: positive/negative; republican/democrat; white/black; vaccinated/unvaccinated.

And in this context, a red LED sign, 00:01, can be both the beginning and the end. The beginning of a count: we spent a lot of time looking at how many people died, were vaccinated, were hospitalised, as the numbers kept piling up. But at the same time we waited for it all to end, a life expressed in a countdown.