Tom Norwood: Moods in Watercolor
Updated: May 7, 2021
You can hear the snow crunch beneath your boots as you enter the landscape painted here. It is that strange time in mid-winter when things partially thaw. It is too early to hope for spring, for more snow will surely come. Yet, in this moment the ice has receded, and the water is flowing again, just as a reminder that winter will eventually lose its grip. Norwood captures precisely the solitary feeling that can engulf one in a land where winters are long. Small touches of pale violet appear in leftover grasses, in the snow that rims a stand of gray tree trunks, and in the fragile chill of mist that floats up to the sky. The dull yellow of the grass, the hazy outline of a distant forest, and the broken limbs of a tree felled by the last snowfall complete this image. It is what the ancient Chinese would call "silent poetry," a term they used to express the essence of painting. This one captures the very mood of winter and the hope for spring.
Tom Norwood did not grow up in the deep snowy forests of Wisconsin. No, he is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his relatives and teachers encouraged him to pursue his art. That continued at Southern University in Baton Rouge where his instructors, the late Frank Hayden, one of Louisiana's preeminent sculptors, and the late Jean-Paul Hubbard, a prominent Louisiana painter, both encouraged Norwood to begin to submit his work to local shows and competitions. Norwood continued to do that throughout his professional career as an educator, having become a professor in the Education Departments of the University of Nebraska and later at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Yet painting was always a part of the picture. His eye was always alert for just the right scene, the right light, the right subject.
"I am constantly looking at the way light highlights certain features and characteristics of objects, people, and landscapes. The lighting of the subjects plays a great role in my decision to try and capture the essence of the observations in visual terms." Tom Norwood
This beautiful piece of nature's own sculpture is a tree that got struck by lightening. It's twisted limbs curve like lines in a painting by Thomas Hart Benton. Part of its bark scorched off by that bolt from the storm, the tree stands like a lonely relic from the time before the prairies were settled. The highest point anywhere in the area, its height had attracted its doom. Yet it stands, now turned into a monument to nature's destructive whims. Norwood shows us the strength of this tree that still stands. He traces the movement of the lightening bolt through the center trunk right down to the ground in a swath of white curving lines. The high heat scorched one part of it black, while oddly leaving another with its bark still on. The artist's insightful appreciation of this odd phenomenon leaves the viewer with the subtle neutral color harmonies that roam through what remains of that tree. Even the grasses at its base reflect the white and gray tones of the tree, though they also have subtle green and a bit of light red-violet. Norwood chose the perfect backdrop to show off this singular piece, a flat golden plain with just an echo of trees in the far distance. The plain, almost solid, light gray sky with the faintest hint of pale blue-violet color coordinates with the white and gray tree trunk, letting the tree be the star of the show. The finishing touch is the softest of pale whitish-beige light that indicates a touch of sun at the top of the tree and on some of the grass at its foot. With that the picture of this tree, its history, and its essence are complete.
"I have learned through the creation of a piece of work that there are some happy accidents that occur which tend to encourage experimentation and exploration of endless possibilities as I work with different media." Tom Norwood
Now, I won't claim that there were any "happy" accidents in this painting of a torrent of water coursing down the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado. However, painting water and its effects can be really tricky business. Here Norwood chooses well where to indicate the rock surface over which the rushing waters flow. They show up here and there but often only as pale shadows underneath the gush of the water. We see the white water foam up against the broken tree limbs and rocks that line the banks of the river. The detail in the items that form the banks of the river stand in contrast with the abstract quality of the water, which is held in place despite its wild will by the rock and wood along those banks. Capturing this force of nature in such a realistic way takes the viewer right into the forest to the side of the river, here still more of a creek that is beginning its journey down from the mountains. It has still a long way to go, but here it is bursting with the exuberance of its youthful start on that journey.
"Having worked on large paintings and sculptures in the past, I have decided to work on smaller pieces focusing on the notion that a work does not have to be monumental in size to be monumental in scope or impact." Tom Norwood
The pieces below featuring the ballerinas are formatted in a long narrow style that works well with the image of the tall slender ballerinas. These dancers seem to have materialized from the shadowy blue or gray backgrounds. We can image them having entered from stage left to twirl before our eyes for a brief moment of fantasy before swirling off stage right and out of view again.
Here we have the figure once more, first of a veiled dancer and then of a nude in a classic pose. The color scheme is quite different for Private Dancer. The violets and peach colors combine with the off-white to create both a dream-like feeling and the sensation of graceful movement. The nude figure sitting on a box holds a classic pose. Norwood's color choices provide contrast while allowing for subtle transitions from the box to the figure. The color deepens as it rises up the body with the white light delineating the curve of the back, the ears and the hair pinned into a bun. Norwood's skill as a painter of miniatures comes to the fore here, and the small format of these paintings makes them like little jewels.
"I believe that art is important in providing a glimpse into a particular period of time, oftentimes reflecting the manner in which the artist interprets or responds to the current events/conditions using various media to visualize his/her conceptualization of the events/conditions." Tom Norwood
Our times certainly have presented us with some surprising events. Norwood captures the anguish caused by the trauma that has occured at the southern border. Here the artist chose to represent a child whose parents have brought him to the United States, a land of immigrants, only to face imprisonment and separation. Norwood has put his talents to work here to express the emotions current at that time by symbolically making the flag weep. The watercolor seems to still be wet as it fades out of the strict lines of the stripes and become water again but water of a particular kind. The Stars and Stripes have teardrops hanging from them which replicate the real tears of the young boy. We can only look at this piece and ask ourselves one question. Why? When that question arises, it shows that the artist has achieved his purpose of conceptualizing an event.
One of Norwood's instructors in college was a well-known sculptor. Here we see that Norwood combines his own love of wood-working with his love for art. Again he makes a social comment about caring for one another. In My Brother's Keeper, we see the simple straightforward lines representative of African art which itself was such an influence on much of modern sculpture and painting (think Picasso). The concept of support is well represented by the tripod formed by the legs of the figures. The arms of the brother who supports seeks to lift the head of he who is downtrodden while simultaneously supporting the back of the figure to help straighten him. The fact that the supportive brother has legs at a wide stance would indicate a solidity that can well offer the help needed. One feels that ultimately the other figure will be able to straighten himself up and stand on his own.
Art comes through the artist in many different forms. With Norwood we see someone who has mastered the use of watercolor to produce both realistic and abstracted works. Bending water to one's will is not a small thing to achieve, nor is working wood into a desired form an easy task. However, this artist has done both for us to view, enjoy, and even learn from.
Norwood's paintings have been included in a long list of shows. the National Exhibit of Contemporary Realism (Springfield, MA 1983); National Juried Miniature Competition (Columbia, SC 1983); 10th Annual International Miniature Competition (Clearwater, FL 1985); First Annual Miniature Painting Show (Certificate of Merit, Southport, NC 1985); Second Annual National Miniature Painting Show (Second Place, Lexington, NC 1986); First International Exhibit of Miniature Art (Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1986); The First Annual Postage Stamp Size Miniature Show (Bozeman, MT 1987); Arts West Juried Competition (Eau Claire, WI 1993); Pueblo Art Guild Winter Show (Honorable Mention, Pueblo, CO 2016); Colorado State Fair (Pueblo, CO 2017); and Pueblo Art Guild Winter-Open Theme Show (Honorable Mention/Special Award, Pueblo, CO 2021).
Tom Norwood can be contacted at email@example.com
For more on Marjorie Vernelle, see the author page at amazon.com/author/marjorievernelle
She also has an engaging art history blog that talks of painting and wine on ofartandwine.com
© Marjorie Vernelle 2021