Make Eye Contact  

Norman Lundin tolerates no haphazard or accidental mark in his works. He seeks a total visibility that hides nothing in the artifice of the art making. A self-proclaimed and -defined ďeye-firstĒ painter, Lundin has formed and evolved his powerful compositional intelligence from a close scrutiny of the world. Speaking eloquently in his teaching and writings of the necessity to respond visually, he has created an oeuvre over the past forty-five years that demands we look closer, that we make eye contact.

I have known Lundinís work for over thirty years now, and with each new drawing and painting that I encounter, I experience afresh its isolated, self-absorbed interiority. Instinctively, I virtually draw my jacket closer around my body against the cold clarity of the looking as I explore the spaces inside Lundinís works. On finding a small patch of warm light, my eyes circle and tease every perceptible degree of heat from the moment. Inward-looking, solitary, often austere, his works continually challenge and reward intimate scrutiny. And so I return to them to revel in the gratifications they afford a roaming eye that finds fulfillment not in discovered narrative or emotion, but in the absolute pleasures of line, tone, and chiaroscuro.

Norman Lundin has an almost Proustian relationship to memory and the working spaces that an artistís life occupies. He has used the ordinary objects that come to populate an artistís studio and the life models who animate the space to explore the formal rendering of the fall of sunlight inside that spare place. In drawings and paintings that participate in the rich continuum of the American realist and still-life tradition, Lundin has crafted a formula for working that exploits vernacular architecture and objects to structure situations for the loving exploration of the artistís craft. His is an emblematic world of tin cans and paint rags, solitary coffee cups and windowsills, scrubbed tabletops and worn walls, called forth without any of the telling clutter that makes the studio a mirror of the artistís life and processóa place of signifiers and atmospheres.

Lundin stopped rendering images of his own working space over the years. He came to favor a more conceptually pure and malleable one in which the individual components would serve the formal relationships of art making, not biography. His subjects are never capricious or indifferently composed. Lundin exercises the same rigor in constructing the fictions that are his rooms as he does in their meticulous crafting, so that they look like the world we live in, and yet not. He constructs his works from the accumulated image fragments of experienced places, in the context of a complex syntax of sensory perception that provides at times stoic, alternately sybaritic renderings of three-dimensional form animated by light. From the artifice of a charcoal drawing of a nude tapped to a the studio wall to a recent oil painting of a misty invented landscape seen through steel casement windows, the works have taken on an almost elegiac silenceóor is it airlessness?óthat pervades the perfect rendering.

These are unheated rooms for working at the artistís craft. Their orderly spaces are warmed only by the occasional snippet of bright color and streams of light that fall across the space, suggesting all the variants in hue and warmth from dawn to dusk. Lundinís observations of the path of light across space resonate palpably for the viewer and conflate experience with representation. It is not verisimilitude in the sense of nineteenth-century trompe líoeil still life painting that one finds in Lundinís works, but rather the verity of experience presented through the traditional means of the artistís rendering. 

Just as Blake metaphorically saw the universe in a grain of sand, Lundin has found his universe in the simple cans and bottles arranged on the tables of a sun-streaked studio. Caprices of observation and invention, Lundinís work offers the viewer a world of total invention based in the artistís history and craft and suggests an utter honesty and clarity. The artifice of his paintings and drawings is built on his consummate technique and surfaces, which can both mirror and seduce the world. Color, form, and surface engage the eye and then the mind with an endless reverie of light, shadow, and reflection. With no technical limitations to impede the grace and accomplishment that fills these works, today Lundin is finding fresh ground to explore inside his studio paradigm, challenging us once more to see, and to discover in the seeing a more complex and resonant world around us.

 

Bruce Guenther

Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Portland Art Museum, Oregon