Her paintings of celebrity´s children are sourced from a variety of media. They seemingly suggest a hybrid pop art, but the artist has surpassed that clever mission by evoking an unforced strangeness masquerading as the familiar.
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Masquerade as a visual strategy comes naturally to Nortvedt, who studied theatre design at the English National Opera following a stint at Central St. Martins from 1977-78. Her subsequent travels and work stays in New York, Latin America, France and Dubai resulted in a eclecticism ranging from Latin folk art, French Symbolists (especially Gustave Moreau), Persian miniatures, and that one-man art movement Edward Munch. With authority, Nortvedt had developed her personal mythological landscape, peopled with the fantastic and the heroic. She was recognized as one of Norway´s more celebrated painters of the 80´s and 90´s, and certainly had made waves in the mostly male dominated art establishment of Scandinavia.
In the year 2000 she stood of all this on its head, when she began her exciting series of works based on the JFK funeral and a half dozen paintings of JFK junior. The distancing devices that usually accompany pop appropriations might have seemed at odds with Nortvedt´s natural depth of expression and painterly fluid style. Just as pop art was never totally successful in banishing brushwork (think early and late Warhol, Lichtenstein, Hockney and Jasper Johns) Nortvedt plunders the movements better attributes and twists them into an almost dyslexic state of suspension. This serves her continuing intention of altering the viewer´s state of mind.
Since relocating to North London in 2002, Nortvedt has returned to her earlier theme of paintings of children. These new works are created from a completely different psychological scale than most art. Paintings derived from photographs of celebrity´s children in Nortvedt´s hands, become as empathetic as a pieta. And like a pieta`, the children depicted have an aura, but the exact contents of that ethereal glow are not revealed. The voyeurism speaks volumes about our society´s values. Nortvedt´s work also questions why one would even recognize an image of Lourdes or Rocco. Once past the novelty of identity, the images reverberate from a core force, more than their surface fame.
To quote Dan Cairns, who´s essay on Nortvedt appeared as a feature in Ritz Magazine, The in-house magazine for The Ritz, The Ritz Club & The Ritz Hotel.
It would be easy to flick through her portfolio and deduce that imagery coincided exactly with the arrival of the information age, of the celebrity free-for-all in other words, that her 2000 sequence based on the iconic photographs of JFK Jr stiffly saluting his father´s coffin, or her unsettling and double-edged 1999 homage to Mickey Mouse, Icon II, came about as a direct result of, as a reaction to, witnessing a population with its nose stuck in Heat magazine, or pressed against a TV screen showing reality television.
Yet from the very beginning of her painterly explorations, Nortvedt has demonstrated an awareness of the dual nature of symbolism and of archetypes: that they are, undeniably, receptacles for the most yearning but least self-comprehending sides of our nature. But also, that they are comfort zones that can, even as they envelop and reassure us, subsume our individuality in a collective state of denial. They are friend but also foe. And we are victims, but monsters too.
A second reoccurring theme is the connecting hand of the parent. From Michelangelo to Duchamp the painted hand has always been an allegorical mimicry of divine creation.
The figures are mostly against abstract backgrounds, but they are linked to another universe by the dangling paws of the parents. When the disembodied glove of Michael Jackson lies on the masked head of Prince Michael or holds the tiny raised hand of his daughter Paris, it is not reassuring. In fact, Nortvedt´s entire output has a certain anxious perversion about it and that’s topical. The scale imposed in a snapshot taken on bended knees, remains critical to her works implicit invitation.
Nortvedt´s confidence enables her to guide us through the labyrinth of the child´s forbidden garden; where her subjects play and involuntarily we play along. Her portraits of children are a reversal of Picasso´s answer to Gertrude Stein regarding his semi-cubist portrait of her *; in this case they will never look like this again.
When Stein complained that his paintings didn´t resemble her, Picasso famously quipped; It will!
Pollock Fine Art hosted UK exhibition of paintings by Therese Nortvedt.