Tuesday, January 29, 2008
ARTIST NORM BRYANT
“I only go into the ocean about waist deep,” Norm Bryant says. “I love the ocean but I’m scared of it at the same time. It’s beautiful.”
He’s referring to his fear of water, and more importantly, the fear of sharks. Those two things are a constant in his life. His Internet icon is the fearsome image of a great white shark’s head bursting from the water, a row of gnashing teeth. For the cause of such frustration Bryant seems content to keep it close by.
“I love the ocean but am unable to enjoy it,” he says. “I’m looking around all the time.”
He created the art on this month’s cover years ago, ‘Shark Ride,’ as a reminder of his fear and the capability to overcome them, thinking about what it would be like to ride such an incredible creature, specifically a great white shark. His friends thought it odd that he’d do such a drawing, and even stranger the idea for a tattoo of a great white extending along his upper arm and around the shoulder. Perhaps it’s merely respect for such a powerful and singular creature or just the fascination.
“I’m terrified of them, coming from the north,” he jokes. Hailing from Buffalo, he explains that the ocean wasn’t close by but the movies were, citing Jaws and Deep Blue Sea. And Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
“I try to watch that every year,” he says.
Norm wants to overcome that fear, believing that’s why he dreams about it. And he’s always wanted to go to South Africa and get into a shark cage.
“I’ll probably have a heart attack but if I could do it with a little insurance, the shark cage,” he says, “I’d do it.”
His determination to face a particular fear is comparable to the images in some of his work. There’s a steady theme of strength in pieces and in his work you can see he has a firm grasp of the subconscious, of emotional subtext. Dreams serve as a bountiful supply of ideas and images for his artwork.
“I try to remember my dreams,” he says. “As soon as I get up and I sketch what I dreamed.” It’s something he made a habit long ago.
If one were to surmise about Bryant’s creations one might come away feeling he’s disturbed, does his work while under the influence. It is quite the opposite, as he has never taken drugs and simply offers his take on what he sees, whether it is dark or inspirational. Bryant is a humble artist, always appreciative and taken aback by compliments about his work.
His work stands in stark contrast to his demeanor to be sure. But it wasn’t always the case. There was a period time in which he didn’t draw anything, for nearly two years.
“I didn’t really have anything to say,” he says. “It was a dark period for a while.” That all changed within the last year when he met his current girlfriend, who seemingly pulled him out of a self imposed period of seclusion. This period of renewal has led to new opportunities and the onset of creativity.
Norm sits at a kitchen table smoking a cigarette. A small bird chirps politely in a nearby birdcage. In the living room are a few creations, the portrait of David Letterman. It is striking for the comedian’s overzealous smile and centered gap in his teeth. It’s also a piece that Norm spent three months on, a drawing comprised solely of dots. The style is referred to as pointillism. The art is exquisite and one has to stand close to recognize the immense detail. Also evident are features in the Letterman drawing, they accentuate the television host’s personality in addition to physical presence. Norm has captured Letterman’s boisterous nature, his comedic smugness and affable smile.
He’s done similar works based on Elvis and Howard Stern that also capture their distinct personalities. The Stern piece is close up, peering into eyes framed by glasses that are peering right back at the viewer. It encapsulates Stern’s notorious ability to stab people with his questions, eyes staring down the bridge of his nose. The ‘Elvis’ is the late seventies Elvis we have come to know as an example of the excess of success, the drugged out and reclusive King. One almost has to be told it is Elvis because the image of the fallen singer is a little deranged, frazzled and manic. It’s beautifully troubled to say the least, but once again Norm has captured a person in the moment or period of life, akin to how Hirschfield captured the essence of celebrities in his drawings.
The close study aspect of Norm’s work is a profitable trait, one that is productive and slightly troublesome when it comes to paying attention. He says that he tends to drift off when talking to someone, he doesn’t mean to, just begins to artistically analyze the person, seeing what it is about them that makes them who they are. It’s this different type of attention that allows him to create a drawing that shows off a person’s individuality. He tries to show things that people don’t normally see.
“I spend a lot of time studying them,” he says. “What I can put on paper that makes them different.”
Norm also tends to spend a lot of time when working on pieces, taking the time to get something right. Sometimes with a piece he’ll work on it for a while and then let sit for a long time, let the idea gestate or allow for him to bring other accents to the finished image. He likens it to kids, taking care to spend a lot of time and attention.
“If something doesn’t look right I am hesitant to show it,” he says. “I am very critical of my own work.”
He’s proud of his work but simultaneously self deprecating and always thinking the work could be better. Several times he mentions wanting to draw them again, perhaps not seeing what others do. It’s that type of criticism and dedication that keeps Norm motivated.
“My heart will always be in this,” he says. “Perhaps too much.”
Another thing is progression. He cites an art teacher who advised students to keep everything they drew to see how they’ve progressed, to see where they came from.
Norm has a palette of varying styles, caricature drawings of known people, eclectic and edgy comic book images – not your superhero stylings but those that are fantastic and whimsically dark and paintings that are hopeful and troubled all at once. Having spent a lot time working with pencils and charcoal Norm has begun to work with paint. His first oil painting is of a person caught standing down a wave knee deep in a body of water. Another swell grows in the distance. It’s simply called ‘Perseverance.’
“In life you come up against a lot of drama, a lot to overcome,” he says. “We all do. You live and learn from mistakes.”
He’s drawn since an early age and mentions both his mother and father as influences. His mother made ceramics and his father did cartoons. As a young artist he would draw Modigliani’s work. And like many artists, he did art for friends, giving away pieces he was unhappy with. Friends also asked him to design tattoos.
“It stuck with me through school,” he says. “I didn’t really know what I could do with it at the time.”
For a while he gave up on drawing between high school and college because it was more of a hobby than something he viewed as an applied skill. College gave exposure to different ideas, and although he began in graphic design, the idea of entering the business world wasn’t all that appealing.
“I wanted to be somewhat independent,” he says. “Do my own thing.”
While attending college in Buffalo, New York, Norm switched his major from graphic design to theatre design.
He found his way into theatre as manager for campus entertainment handling shows ranging from Oliver Stone to Chris Rock and George Carlin. Norm graduated with a degree in theatre design.
But while as an art student a professor suggested switching to another university in order to study under a specific professor. The professor felt that Norm’s style of art work could easily lend itself to a magazine like Rolling Stone. But he was more interested in theatre by then. It’s something he partially regrets now, but knows he followed his heart at the time.
“I didn’t really want to do that,” he says. “I wanted to get into film more too.” But a friend in California who worked for WB Animation told Norm it was less about talent and more about who you knew. He wasn’t sure if he could swing working there and trying to get on a production, possibly working for free, at the same time. So, like many creative people, he made the move to Wilmington to get work in a creative field.
“If you have talent, then you let that talent take you where you’re meant to be,” he says.
While in college Norm tried his hand at writing a screenplay that crosses genres and mixes philosophy and religion. It was a surreal and philosophical story involving a cowboy who travels from California and ends up in a magical town inhabited mostly by heavenly beings he believes to be real people. He went so far as to create conceptual art for the script which led to creating art for a comic book idea.
“I bounce from idea to idea, sometimes never fully completing a piece,” he says. “I just get a lot of ideas and want to work on them all.”
Recently, a friend in Germany asked him if he could take the screenplay and translate it into a play. While certain aspects have changed from its original conception, now being set in modern Germany, the general story remains. It is currently in production with shows to start in the spring.
One thing Norm is definitely sincere about is the approach to drawing people, defying the stereotypical need to draw everyone as ‘beautiful’ and in perfect form. His images reveal people realistically, as in everyday life. In ‘Lady at the Window’ the female form is far from the thin body type projected in lingerie catalogs. It prominently shows a full figured woman, shapely.
“To me that’s beautiful, that’s a normal woman,” he says. He drew the piece specifically without facial features so viewers didn’t linger on her face and saw the female in a natural way. “No face, no hair, just a shape.”
That approach is just one of the many he uses. The bulk of his drawings have a fluid or natural flow to them, whether in facial accents or in an image’s movement itself. In much of the work there is the sense of vibrancy and energy coupled with frustration. The style of his work recalls Philip Burke (Rolling Stone) and Ralph Steadman (Hunter S. Thompson). Its surreal nature, coupled with dreams, blends peace with discomfort to creature fantastic images that engage.
“A lot of my stuff is surreal,” he says. “But I like to call it escapism. It’s a mixture of different things.” A lot are comprised of similar color tones, finding that when he put them together there was a similar theme. Not exactly a concept, it’s a template of free flow, a vibe that displays ‘whatever you’re thinking.’ In many pieces the end result is relaxing and confounding, subtle complexity that gets the brain moving.
In addition to creating images for his script, Norm sketched a variety of ideas for a comic book idea he worked on with a friend. The interest in comic art was to be short lived but the results were positive. The images blend Asian sensibilities, strength and the comically hellish. What stands out is the use of perspective.
“I like using perspective in my drawings,” he says. “I think of it as being a fly on the wall, seeing things from a different angle.” The drawings lend themselves to fantastic or elaborate storyboard work and avant garde comic art.
But the stylization and thinking that goes into comic art, composing much information into single images and frames was practice for Norm’s current endeavor. Finding a common bond with coworker Shawn Matthews the two have paired up to create an online t-shirt company, Veriteez.com, that produce original images taking aim at politically or socially subjects. Targets such as Hollywood and inflated celebrities like Paris Hilton will serve as fodder fusing humor, hipness and statements. The new business is another way for Norm to sooth his creative needs and says something in the modern culture and climate.
“Shawn really liked my art and had the idea,” he says. “It’s a good combination of his business sense and my creativity.”
The images are both tongue-in-cheek and humorous, concocting left of center images to create apparel that is devoid of brand and at the same time says something about the person wearing it. Norm is not apprehensive about his creations, believing that something different is needed today in the constant string of homogenization. Yet, he still remains humble about compliments and respectful of others opinions.
“I never thought people would have any interest in my stuff because it’s a little crazy,” he says. “My folks look at it strangely.” And although Norm has grown accustomed to people’s reactions he knows that his work has evolved, gaining depth and meaning.
“People don’t say anything but it’s all in their eyes,” he says with a laugh. And once you see Norm’s work it stays with you.