An interview with artist Brandon Norsted about his exhibition The Purchase of Deep Water. Norsted was interviewed by Rachel Bruya, exhibitions coordinator at the James Watrous Gallery.
Brandon Norsted installing his show at Watrous Gallery
Rachel Bruya: What is your background and how has that influenced you as an artist?
Brandon Norsted: Woodworking and furniture-making led me to a practice of making art. I worked with several furniture makers before really discovering that I wanted the things I make to work in a more far-out dangerous way. Working for furniture makers was very rewarding. This experience helped me to learn a material really well and how to put things together. It was also inspirational in that there were little things done in the woodshop that were overlooked and I wanted to point at these things as important or absurd.
RB: Can you describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio”?
BN: My studio practice is traditional in the sense that I go to a place with materials and end up eventually making an object, but it differs in that it happens only from time to time, feast or famine like. I find most places are suitable for an idea to pop up, but the ideas need to be brought into the studio to be flushed out and to be fully discovered. So the idea of a studio is more about time than space. If these ideas are going to be communicated, they need to be given some respect and that comes in the form of time spent with them.
View of Brandon Norsted’s studio
RB: How would you describe the subject matter or content of your work?
BN: Going back to the woodshop… I became interested in the little caretaking aspects of the process of making a piece of furniture. We would finish a piece of furniture and it would get wrapped in a quilted blanket—a furniture pad—and it would be carefully loaded into a van to be taken to the finishers. I became very interested in the process of covering the objects and all the care they received. These blankets were worn and beautiful by themselves. I wondered when would be a good time to take the blanket off? Obviously when the piece is delivered, the client is not interested in the blanket and they just want the table or chair or whatever. But is this a good time to take the blanket off, really? Why did we hide the real quality of the wood with a thin coat of plastic and make it all shiny in the first place? Is that not protective and obscuring? A lot of my content comes from exploring the tension between our idea of what a precious object is and the reality of the object. Why are we okay with a coat of plastic and not okay with a quilted blanket? This conundrum seems to be overlooked.
Foundling. Media: Wood, Moving Blankets. 2008.
RB: Describe your process and materials.
BN: My materials come from house projects that were never finished, things found at thrift stores, fancy white oak from a lumber yard, and quite a lot of finishes including paint, pine tar and polyurethane. The process that I have has become very playful and exploratory. The ideas are there and they are demanding of my time. They want to be manipulated and squeezed to see what actually is in there. I have a vague notion of something and then I spend time finding materials to accomplish this initial idea and it usually takes me somewhere else. There begins a dialogue between the idea and the materials. Sometimes one is dominant and sometimes the other. This can make the work seem a little disjointed at times, but I feel that if multiple pieces are viewed together it begins to expose its own unique logic.
RB: How has your work changed in the last five years?
BN: I think the main thing that has changed is my attitude towards what it is that I am doing. I also have an English degree and I love to tear apart things analytically to find hidden meaning and what the author/filmmaker/artist was “really” getting at. (I love that documentary Room 237 about Stanley Kubrick’s films). But I’m not searching for hidden meaning through my art process. The meaning of the pieces is of little concern to me while I am making them. I think five years ago I wanted more control over an object’s meaning and it drove me a little crazy. What an object means can be interpreted in so many ways that it makes this impossible, especially for the artist making them. It seems to have something to do with the analytical part of my brain and how it wants to solidify things either by making them overly complex or overly simplified. I now love not knowing and trusting that my eyes and hands are going to do what they do and if it ends up meaning something to someone….great. I would say that the work has more to do with the intelligence of the body and with intuition. Both of these things are underrated and underappreciated!
A work by Matias Faldbakken that influenced Norsted. Photo courtesy of Standard Oslo.
RB: What artist, film, or literature has a strong influence on your work?
BN: There are artist working now that I appreciate greatly. People like Mark Manders, Michael Jones McKean, Robert Gober, Ann Hamilton and Matias Faldbakken to name a few. I wouldn’t say they are necessarily influential on the work directly, but they are more there to say, “It’s okay, keep going, you are on the right track, trust yourself.” Viewing their practices gives me a strong understanding of what it means to be free. Free from expectations to be something that you are not and the freedom to go down paths that might seem silly from the meaning/analysis standpoint.