Dark Metropolis: Irving Norman's Social Surrealism
September 23, 2006 – January 7, 2007
Unmasking the realities of human nature and the contemporary society in which we live, Irving Norman aimed only "to tell the truth of our time." His highly detailed paintings are powerful critiques of modern life, painted in the hope of promoting change. The atrocities Norman witnessed in volunteer service during the Spanish Civil War jolted his consciousness, and he began to express his experiences through drawing and then painting from the 1940s to the 1980s. With the belief that his paintings could act as agents of social reform, Norman felt that pointing out the inequities, horrors and foibles of human behavior might somehow cause people to reconsider their actions. Most paintings were intended for public institutions, particularly museums, where the artist thought "all people could come and study them and contemplate."
Norman's canvases are monumental in scale and teem with swarming figures, clone-like in their repetition, yet retaining elements of individuality. These figures are constricted by small urban spaces, caught in the crunch of bodies that fill city streets and subways, and decimated by the pain of poverty and the horror of war. The darkness of his visions is relieved by his jewel-like color harmonies and sharp wit. Once the spectator is engaged, Norman's unsettling visions cannot be ignored—or forgotten. Through scale and infinite detail he makes the immensity and atrocities of war and contemporary society comprehensible. While often horrific and terrifying, these visions contain a deeper message: one of hope.