A Critique of Nano Nore's Norway
A Solo Exhibition in Park University’s Campanella Gallery, November 4-December 15, 2007. A critique by Donna Bachmann, Professor of Art & Director of the Gallery.
I have known Nano Nore, artist and educator, for many years, as a sister alumna of the Kansas City Art Institute and as artists and colleagues. She has shown my work at William Jewell's Stocksdale Gallery and I have exhibited hers once before in the Campanella which I direct. We are friends. Thus I am very familiar with her work and have seen its development over a twenty year span.
Professor Nore is "an artist's artist". Her expertise in media and technique, both in two dimensions and in three, is extensive. Her painting technique is "painterly"; that is, the brush strokes have a sensuous and compelling rhythm and delight in the stuff of the paint itself. Her drawing has always been characterized by verve and liveliness. Much of her previous work, her ceramics in particular, has been extremely witty in its irreverent (and knowledgeable) take on the history of art. Thus, content and narrative has previously played an important role in her work. This current body of work generated during and derived from her 2006 sabbatical in Norway, is different.
Landscape in plein aire is the most challenging and humbling of disciplines.
(I keep trying it myself but seldom achieve anything with it.) Weather, wind, shifting light, by standers, the 360 degrees, the immensity and the complexity, all combine into a painting genre that is not for sissies. During her time in Norway I enjoyed receiving her online photographs and commentary. I remember thinking, “how will she manage to artistically deal with those unique and unfamiliar forms and spaces?" Usually it takes an artist’s lifetime to understand a place.
Nano Nore took a very long look at the land-seascape of the fjords and she came to understand something about those beautiful and complex spaces and forms and light. Her work reveals it.
She used a number of strategies. In the two large graphite drawings on grey paper, Rock Sentinels and Bryggia Dock, she employs the direct approach using a classic hatching technique to produce contrasts in tone, texture and space. The hatch marks generate an insistent rhythm and complex patterns, beautiful and enticing in themselves. But these very descriptive images are not immediately legible---one must study them for a bit to discern what they are telling. The Rock Sentinels are stone posts in the foreground that mark the boundary of her Uncle Einar’s mountain patio---like Kansas post rocks or miniature menhirs---and give way to a view of dark brooding pines and mountains beyond. In Bryggia Dock the image is dominated by a large arcing form rimmed with circles set against shimmering water. And being enticed, one sees that what first looked to be the maw of a dragon, is a dock edged with tires! In both these works, her choice of quixotic vantage points and unlikely subjects within a landscape, that in the hands of a lesser artist would be merely picturesque, transcend the ubiquitous grandeur of the fjord, and help us see something truly wonderful. And in looking, it belongs to us too.
Another strategy comes into play in the 12 part miniature series, Innvick: Across the Fjord from Blakset, Nordfjord, crayon (caran d’ache) and opaque water color (gouache) on black paper. Here she sorts out the immense grandeur by giving us snippets of what seems to be an aerial view. Like samples of a crazy quilt we see from afar, parts of fields and orchards and squiggles of roads. Her palette of greens, from near blacks to near yellows, siennas, ochres and brief punctuations of cadmium red, glows, at once somber and sonorous in the northern light, the moist air a lens that intensifies her color. And it is all stitched together with fuzzy black boundary lines and the black texture of the paper’s tooth breaking through the color. These deceptively simple small works summarize that which is essential in the landscape, (which is the hardest thing to see) with delicacy and boldness---a macrocosm on a microcosm scale.
Yet another strategy is displayed in the next generation of the small Innvick images, studio re-statements, on a larger scale, of each of the smaller works. From the small paper she moves to moderately scaled black gessoed canvas and the same crayon (with varnish?) and gouache for very similar color and texture effects. These re-interpretations of the fjord-scapes are less intimate and more abstract, more emphatic while the forms are more playful and elastic than their “parent” images.
Her six color reductive linocut print, Kannesteinen Rock, Vogsoy, Norway uses a rarely seen technique in which the linoleum black is gradually cut away. Six times during that process she inked in a separate color, printed and cut away yet more of the block. There is no margin for error in this balancing act of a technique. But her visual results transcend the technical achievement in this is a superb tour de force of design and color. The rhythmic patterns seen in her large graphite landscapes are here set loose in a Van Gogh-like swirl of moving forms and vivid Fauvish color that frame the weird testicular shape of the Kannesteinen Rock that seems to erupt above the ocean currents that have carved it. So again Nano Nore finds something in the landscape that is completely unfamiliar and lets us see it with her.
But for me the most powerful, in terms of pure design, of this body of work, are her extraordinary black and white linocuts. They are reminiscent of the great northern illustrator and printmaker, Rockwell Kent. In these prints she achieves a rarely seen balance between the positive and the negative: are these white images on black paper or black images on white? It is hard to tell. In Boat Dock at Selja Island, the white lines into black, the black lines into white, perform a dance that merges out of the rocky foreground and invite us to enter into the deeper space. In Totland Church from the Old Bryggia Road, the church forms a visual resting place amid the hatched patterned rhythms that frame it. However her two nautical images, Old Norwegian Boat in Nordfjord and Nordfjord Boats with Mount Homelin are the most beautiful of the six. In both, the exquisite grace of the boat hulls, with their sensuous curves, dominate the foregrounds and lead us into the middle ground of the pictures. Above the sea’s horizon a “Starry Night-like” swirl pirouettes across the heavens.
Nano Nore is a versatile draftsman, printmaker and painter at the height of her powers. She has a vast repertoire of classical technique and skill that enable her to produce images that are at once very sophisticated and at the same time very accessible. Nothing gets in her viewer’s way as she shares her joy and delight and reverence for the beauty and mystery of the natural world and a place where the works of “man” seem still to be benign.