|Ben Norris lived in a strange, exotic land, but he saw the natural beauty of his surroundings through the incisive prism of a studied modernist. Throughout this retrospective exhibition, the lush watercolor landscapes seem at once familiar and mystical, realistic and abstract, majestic yet intimate. And the publication of Ben Norris, American Modernist 1910-2006 offers a fascinating first-person tale of the artist’s decidedly unorthodox working life, including painting Pearl Harbor airfields for Life magazine during WWII, and along with artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, creating Hawaiian backdrops for Dole Pineapple ads. |
Born and schooled in California, Norris spent a year of graduate study at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, followed by courses at the Sorbonne in Paris enjoying a poor man’s version of the “Grand Tour.” His European en plein air watercolor studies are charming and detailed, illustrating both a talent for the medium and keen powers of observation. “With water in the subject,” he wrote in his diary, “it changes not only with the time of day, the brightness or cloudiness of the weather, but also with every little breeze which changes the reflections.” From his time painting in California to his life-changing move to teach in Hawaii, amongst his other far-flung travels, the ability to create landscapes with a constant sense of motion never left Norris.