From Trash to Treasure…Literally.

Posted in art by Anna on July 1, 2009

“From trash to treasure” is a tired and clichéd expression.  In the instance of Theolia Norwood’s current exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, however, saying that Norwood’s work materials have gone from trash to treasure wouldn’t be the quipping of an overused saying, so much as a literal statement of fact.  In his exhibition, Urban Pastoral, Norwood takes city garbage and transforms it into serene country landscapes, where optimism and idealism pool comfortably in an imagined safe-haven.530f02b07c6033bb43468e1b49086fbb_h100w575_width

Being a semi-pretentious undergraduate who’s been exposed to more than her fair share of art-history lectures, my initial presumption was that the artist was making some sort of grand socio-political statement about the irrelevance of urban technology and the appreciation of natural beauty and simplicity.  I was, however, informed I was wrong, in one of my more embarrassing moments on record.  I was standing contemplatively in front of one of Norwood’s painting, when a friendly elder gentleman in a sharp navy suit, and a whimsical straw fedora stopped to ask me about the paintings.  I told him what I liked, what I disliked, and then launched into a self-indulgent, presumptuous rant about social statements and symbolism, to which, the man, who turned out to be none other than Norwood himself, responded with a smiling honesty, telling me that it was never his intention to make some sort of grand philosophical statement.  He just wanted to paint.  Unable to afford canvases, he turned to discarded pizza boxes from an Aldi supermarket, and voila!—instant canvas.

Having this back story, it only makes sense that the artist–who is now working in his own studio provided by Project Onward, the Cultural Center’s program for disabled artists–would paint scenes with an aura of fond reminiscence and escapist beauty.  Interestingly, the pieces painted on pizza boxes (approximately half the works) are actually brighter and more uplifting than those rendered on more legitimate surfaces.  One such piece, “The S Curve” depicts thicks, soft, sunny electric green fir trees which filter sunlight, exuding a nature-induced optimism.  In the center of the smiling green forest winds a country road done in soft grays, provoking the uncertainty of the future, not as ominous, but as promising, adventurous, and thrillingly unknown.  Norwood’s upbeat interpretations of nature shine brightly in “Bottom of Tall Trees,” where the soft peppermint sea-foam greens of tree tops tower above to viewer, and everything is tinted with the bright, exaggerated hues of memory.  The sky is a deep, rich indulgent blue, imaginatively aquatic.  This exaggerated reminiscence only makes sense, as Norwood’s inspiration is rooted in his boyhood memories of Mississippi, and is his remembered woodlands are tinted with an element of the magical, creating the nostalgic fairytale forests that exist only in memory.


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