The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 Thursday, September 24, 2020

'Elliot Norquist: Mail Room' opens at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art
Elliot Norquist, Past Due, 2019. Painted steel, 11 x 18 x .75 inches.

SANTA FE, NM.- You know what they are as soon as you walk into the gallery: windowed security envelope, “sign here” tab, file folder, manila envelope. Except, not quite. The two foot by three foot manila envelope is writ large, its perfect recreated folds, the metal hasp, the circular window – they simultaneously are and are not quite familiar. What is going on here?

Those familiar with Elliot Norquist’s work, his metal wall sculpture in particular, will recognize at once the attitude of seriousplay at work here. And while these “representative” pieces may at first feel like a radical departure for someone who has devoted himself almost wholly to the study of minimal geometries, a little time, a bit longer spent with these “Mail Room” pieces, sets off an “aha” of recognition. There is the triangle, the rectangle, the circle. There are the interacting planes, subtly highlighted by the faintly shadowed folds that recreate an envelope’s clever construction. There are the basic, elegant, elements that are the foundation of Norquist’s work.

In many ways the new work Norquist brings to Mail Room echoes back to Dada, to that pivotal 20th Century moment in art when Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal, “Fountain,” to the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. Though there are a multiplicity of interpretations of the act, and of Stieglitz’ subsequent photo of the piece – one of the simple and visceral messages of that moment was the importance of context in the ability to see art. A ubiquitous item of everyday life, placed into the “hallowed” halls of art. But that action of demystification simultaneously opened up an opportunity for viewers to see, not only art, but the everyday world, in a different way.

In Mail Room we have replications of the most commonplace objects: envelopes, files, labels. They are painstakingly recreated in fine layers of steel, but with subtle differences: size, scope, color, material. Despite the death of the letter to the instant gratification of email or texting, most of us do still mail bills, file away our tax forms in a folder, and receive mail and packages. But as with most everyday items, how often do we marvel at the intricate construction of an envelope or feel amazement at the beautiful contrast of a security-envelope pattern behind its plastic window?

Norquist, ever the connoisseur of geometric forms, does marvel. The origin of this series of works was a happy moment of chance and attention: grabbing an envelope off his studio desk to write down a phone number, Norquist was suddenly caught by the remarkable construction, the play of geometries, the contrast of outer white and inner colored pattern. He began to deconstruct different kinds of envelopes and then to draw them, falling deeper under the spell of this form of, as he puts it, “minimalist origami.”

The translation of these found objects into wall sculpture led to a whole new set of challenges. Norquist found himself forced to make the pieces much thinner than earlier series of work. The folds and constructions themselves brought up questions of shadow and interaction with the wall, of layering. And though quite a bit larger than the objects themselves, the pieces in this series are smaller than much of Norquist’s earlier works, meaning that, unlike earlier work, which was powder-coated, Norquist has painted these by hand, opening up a new color vocabulary.

Norquist’s perennial sense of play is on full display in the work of Mail Room. Without giving up his respect for the formal geometries at work here, Norquist has created a twist, an alteration in context that is projected into the mind of the viewer. The effect is a sense of strangeness, of dislocation, that shifts the viewer’s senses, their thinking, and their seeing. –— Michaela Kahn, Ph.D.

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