venerdì 15 aprile 2011

Interview with Billy Norrby

q)Who are you? Where are you from and where do you live now?

a)My name is Billy Norrby, I'm a fine artist and oil painter based in Brooklyn. I was born and raised in the city of Stockholm, Sweden but also spent a period of my childhood in a small village in western Norway.

q)What is it that you do? What media do you use?

a)My work is created using oil paint, typically with nothing more than a little cold-pressed linseed oil as a medium. I paint on linen canvas or gesso primed boards.

q)What do you think sets your work apart?

a)Depends on what you compare my paintings with. My art looks with admiring eyes at older art movements such as the pre-Raphaelites, romanticism, symbolism as well as old masters and painting. The golden age of illustration has also been very influential. Art enthusiasts familiar with these categories will probably find such echoes in my work.

Looking at where my paintings have been featured thus far, I think my sources of inspiration might distinguish the paintings I do from some of the rest. Across galleries of the low brow hemisphere, there is a prevalence of trendy, pop saturated art. This is all fine of course, but not so much what my work is about. As some of the visual elements in my paintings are concerned, there are certainly many artist now who express themselves by evoking semi-apocalyptic imagery and scenes of urban decay. You see a lot of environmental concern throughout the field. But when I started this latest series I couldn't help but notice how our news cycles were constantly bombarded by footage of riots, protests and increasingly divisive rhetoric. This anger and the unrest it generated seemed to me a very obvious element for artists to work with, but I was surprised when I looked around and found almost no-one addressing what we've seen daily over the last few years. I decided to explore the anger/protest issue and create depictions of a human landscape that is just as tormented as those of nature. The visual vocabulary of riots and demonstrations was something that merged quite well with my artistic ambitions. Off course, by the time I was nearly done with the series revolutions suddenly flamed up all through the middle east, and the Wisconsin union protests began. These current and stunning events has made me even more respectful of the subject matter.

I am not interested in "dark" as an overall direction or stylistic choice for my work. I find however, that the images and stories that linger in my mind are usually the ones that are bittersweet, longing or somewhat melancholy in nature. So when the time comes for me to think about the concept or narrative suggestions of a new painting, It's usually such territory I wander into without any larger, preconceived intentions.

q)How long have you been showing your work for? Did you have a “big break?”

a)Not terribly long as a painter. I'm a recent graduate from an art program. However, before going to back to education in order to re-invent myself, I had spent the years since high-school working as a designer at a video game company, and also done some varied illustrations for magazines. I wasn't a painter at all back then then, these were drawings done in pen and ink or similar and couldn't be more different from what I do today. Towards the latter half of my program, the Society of Illustrators awarded some of my student paintings, which bolstered my confidence. Shortly before graduation, I was offered group shows and a solo exhibit at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica. Ever since it's been a steady stream of group showings. As far as a "big break" goes, I can only wish that one is unfolding right now!

q)What are some things that have inspired you?

a)Too much to mention. I gained an increased knowledge and appreciation for the history and craft of oil painting through my veteran instructors to whom I owe a lot. Here in the city I frequent the many museums and exhibits on realist painting. Outside of old paintings, cinema history for sure, and especially the vintage stuff such as universal horror movies, film noir, german expressionism, the works of Fellini, Bergman and Kurosawa to name just a few. Many black & white movies have such wonderful compositions and progressions between dark & light. Movies today are very flat in comparison. Where I'm from obviously plays a big part. The look and feel of my native Stockholm with it's beautiful old architecture and long winters. The fjords and dark mountains of Norway. As much as I'm reluctant to admit it, I think there's a certain "Swedishness" in my art since it is a country marred by the absence of sunlight, quiet restraint and moodiness. One notable influence is my older brother Jimmie who was the one that introduced me to any type of fine art in the first place. I remember sitting in his room and listening to Pink Floyd albums while flipping through books on Francis Bacon, HR Giger, and Dali. Even though my work never was very derivative of those artists on a conscious level, I still try to tap into the feeling I had back then of standing before a profound mystery and a vast and dark world outside my safe little haven of comic books and cartoons.

Today I'm inspired by Brooklyn and it's amazingly creative milieu.

q)What have you been working on recently?

a)Trying to wrap up my show "Of the Vanguard" at Copro and beyond that a few paintings and drawings for group exhibitions. I had pieces at the Corey Helford and Wendt Gallery now just recently.

q)Do you listen to music while you create your work? If so, would you give some examples?

a)Yes, I try to attach appropriate soundscapes that fit what I'm currently working on so I put together little playlists for each piece. Oftentimes it's instrumental and classical because catchy tunes and lyrics can be a little distracting and pull me out of the moment. I recently went though some soundtracks of Tarkovsky films such as "Stalker" and "Solaris" that were composed by Edward Artemyev. Just an example. My "work music" isn't necessarily what I listen to when I'm kicking back or heading out to a concert, but rather what I might need to help me find an a suitable atmosphere while working.

q)Do you do work in any other media? Other projects not necessarily related to your main body of work?

a)I would love to do more work outside of oils. I adore water colors and wish I was better at it. However, trying to master oil paint is a task you can fill several lifetimes with so every other technique and medium beyond that has been on a back burner these last few years. There is only so much time sadly. I taught a little portrait painting class together with my dear buddy and studio mate Martin Wittfooth recently. I love painting from life and hope to always do it on a regular basis. Back in the day I used to write a lot of stories and through making videogames participated in creating wild imaginary worlds. That more fleshed out story telling aspect is something I can miss at times. Matt Rota, another artist I share my studio with, sits up all night drawing clever comics which makes me more than a little jealous. Nothing beats oil painting though at the end of the day, so I'm content for the foreseeable future.

q)What advice do you have for artists looking to show their work?

a)First, the crucial stuff. Make sure that you have a solid body of work. Be really objective about your pieces and how they measure up in quality against what's out there. Isolate the areas where you can improve and work with determination to become better. Be willing to pour endless hours into your art making and be ready to sacrifice social time as an expense. It is a test of endurance after all. Networking is always important, but to be frank I never had to approach any galleries to get started. I had friends who were working artists that brought my work to the attention of curators and directors. What I would like to say in this regard however, is that it was my huge, prolonged interest in painting and image making that lead me towards other artists and people of a similar mindset. Some of whom ended up giving me the crucial connections I needed once my work had gotten more sophisticated. For me, getting in touch with the right people that led to the important gallery introduction was not a matter of showing up at openings or some strategic social networking on my behalf, but rather a natural outgrowth of my heartfelt passion for painting. After attending countless of drawing and painting sessions and asking many many talented people about their technique and approach, I got to know others who were similar in interest and felt as strongly about art I did. It certainly helps being in a place like New York where there is so much incredible talent around.

q)Do you have any upcoming exhibitions of your work that you can mention?

a)"Of The Vanguard" now first, then a few group shows over the spring and summer in Los Angeles in New York. I do have my next two solo shows lined up already over the next 18 months and I will be announcing all of it soon on my website. Sorry that I can't say more right now, but many things are coming!

q)Where can people see more of your work on the internet?

a)Since I'm new in the game still, there's not a huge catalog of my work out there yet. What student paintings I had online has quietly faded from the web. New work is always in production and I look forward to unveiling more in the coming weeks. Keep an eye on my website for further updates!