Federica Schiavo Gallery presents Palookaville, Todd Norsten’s latest solo show. The title comes from a quote by Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in the 1954 movie On the Waterfront. Malloy, who’s fighting for the emancipation of the workers, complains about how he got his lousy one-way ticket to Palookaville, the quintessence of misery, where people that work and care end up when the system has used them up. Palookaville is an informal word that started to spread across North America during the Fifties and refers to an imaginary city, home of the mediocre and the incompetent.
During his frequent travels, Todd Norsten develops a photographical archive made of found symbols, traffic or neon signs, information plaques, logos and graffiti. He considers them anonymous examples of unacknowledged artistry and is deeply shocked by our innate need of communication, that brings men to constantly produce images and words. He finds amazing how intimate the handwritten messages in the public realm can be, in a world where the communication is largely digital.
The artist appropriates these found traces, removing them from their original context, literal meaning and function. This conceptual reinterpretation is closely linked to Norsten’s technical skills and in-depth knowledge of the art history. The result is a body of work in which the synthesis of the Minimal Art, the appropriation of Pop Art and the illusion of the trompe-l’oeil coexist.
The world is simultaneously a wonder to behold and a nightmare from which to hide. Painting is the most human way to address this paradox. I would observationally add that my paintings aren’t what they immediately appear to be. I want a person looking at them to notice the way they are painted and the way the paint is handled and to let them unfold over time.
Many times the paintings are generated from the photos I take, which are often documentations of the basic human need to express themselves. In the US, making a sign, a t-shirt, a bumper stickers or coffee mug are very common ways that people express themselves. I am more interested in the need for people to express themselves than I am in what they express. The impulse to make those things is the same impulse that people who painted in caves had. It’s what makes us human.