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Interview With Artist William Norton

Who are you and what do you do?

I am an artist, a curator and a gallerist.


Why do you do what you do?

I am an artist because it’s been my obsession since I was 5 years old. As a child of military parents I was constantly on the move. Every 2-4 years we would relocate and I would have to develop an entirely new group of friends. This led to both an extreme introversion and a desire to engage my mind when solitary. Drawing became my means of communicating with myself,unfortunately a military family is not geared to accept art as a true vocation for male progeny.

Culture and the arts are considered frivolous and unnecessary for a prospective warrior. In 1960 the family moved to Japan when I was 8 years old and my talent was finally given a voice as every corner of that culture was historically rife with aesthetic attention. I make work that is visually accessible and tells a story. I don’t hide what I speak about behind irony or intellectual obfuscation because my life has not been one of ease and reflection. My entire world shattered in 1990 when my ex wife kidnapped and disappeared with my 4 year old son.

I moved back to NYC completely broke because I had given all my money to lawyers during the year I had been fighting for him, and I knew no peace of mind for years as his well being was always foremost on my mind. I then built out a loft in a dangerous section of BedStuy as it was all I could afford, only to have the landlord set fire to the building 3 years later so he could collect the insurance money. In 1999 I found my son just through luck, a teddy bear and storytelling. I had the FBI pick him up and bring him home.

Unfortunately I then became locked in an expensive legal battle with her “cult” only to lose him again to them after 18 months. This depleted all my finances so I was not able to buy the loft building I was living in and it was instead bought by a member of the Mafia and after years in court he bribed the judges to kick me out and I again lost everything. These, and other, life altering episodes have confirmed in me that art is not an intellectual game, but for me a vital resource to keep me alive, communicating and connected.

My work has been long involved with researching the effects of politicized thinking in religious indoctrination and manhood’s societal rites of passage. Currently I’m plumbing the coward’s depths of the testosterone overdrive that fuels the anonymity and militarization of the police state’s manhood myths. From the arrests, rapes, torture, murder and disappearance of the often young protesters for democracy in Hong Kong to the violent denial of America’s racist foundations and history I am giving casting these demons into images.

To this end I employ drawing practices that utilize hand etched lines in plexiglass, traditional charcoal on paper, wood and cardboard and I build specialized frames for these pieces that add to their thematic presentation. I became a curator to give a voice to my family and tribe of artistic associates. Most of my tribe are incredibly talented, however due to family and work commitments they don’t have the time or the chutzpah to hustle their work enough to get it seen. I no longer have anything left to lose and, having been rated NYC’s number 1 stripper in the 1980’s, I can’t be embarrassed by rejection so I have chosen to advocate for them. Since beginning by getting exhibitions for all the art handlers employed by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2015 until today I have been able to convince various galleries and other spaces to allow me to present my people.

I generally did large group shows so I could connect my people with different gallerists, art writers and curators who are also artists. I have now completed 30 of these to date and it has now led me to opening my own gallery in a space that was just supposed to be a Covid era PopUp. This year, Covid willing, I will be taking 6 NYC artists with me to Japan to participate in the Kameyama Triennial. I became a gallerist because the owner of the space I had been offered as a Covid PopUp was so impressed by the quality of the 10 exhibitions I was able to produce there that he has decided to gift me the space going forward. I first started by exhibiting mostly Asian Women Artists as they don’t have enough visibility and now I’m going to be working with a lot of guest curators in the future to expand the gallery’s presence and vision.


What is your dream project?

As an artist my dream project would be to scale up my carved plexiglass pieces about the Cops in Full Battle Gear to around 20’ in height and place them in a traffic circle setting so people could see themselves reflected in and through the surfaces. The shadows cast by the carved lines of these gargantuan cops would change the nature of the piece by the hour. I’ve already made a small mock up of this.


Who are your biggest influences?

The Hong Kong protesters for democracy as their courage continues to be unparalleled.


What’s your favourite artwork?

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger for it’s psychological portrayal of passionate conviction through the use of the fiery crushed red velvet sleeve.


How has your practice changed over time?

It’s become more universal and political, while maintaining my personal vision.


What artistic differences have been the most important to you and why?

The only artistic visions I find important have nothing to do with the fashion of the moment or the new hot young thing straight out of grad school. I only care about artists who have invested their lives in their work regardless of fame, fortune or notoriety.


There is great change at the moment, how are you changing?

I’m not. I’m just working harder at what I’ve long believed in. That’s not just my studio practice it’s also my belief that we artists can have greater control over our careers divorced from major gallery representation.


What art best represents the 'now'?

Those artists I associate with. Their moment is the one they create, not one created for them.


What do you think of Art as NFTs?

It’s too reliant on a fickle technology. If the platforms that the images are stored on become obsolete or the company goes bankrupt they will disappear. The only artists really making money on it right now are the already rich and famous ones.