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hough easily recognizable as landscapes, the oil and acrylic renderings of fields, rivers and marshlands in Michele Norris’s portfolio are anything but realistic. “My old work consisted of very realistic scenes,” she says. “But I’m done with that. Abstract, for me, means no rules. I’m able to create a different view and a different perspective. It’s fun because you’re creating without boundaries.” A self-described “process-oriented” artist, Michele invites the viewer along for the creation of her work via paint drips, palette knife work and wide, square brushstrokes. Patches of paint that have been scraped away reveal the various layers that make up a piece. Based on memories or impressions of places she has seen, the landscapes Artist Michele Norris form the basis of The Good Earth, Michele’s current show presented by the Greater Reston Arts Center. Why landscapes? “A lot of bad things happen in the world,” says Michele, “but there is still a lot of good and a lot of beauty, and I want to show that.” Serendipity–or even chance–can influence the outcome of an abstract painting, but Michele rarely picks up a brush without first creating a series of sketches that allow her to settle on a composition and choose colors. She also perceives each scene as a jumping off point for a particular emotion or energy she hopes to convey: “I try to ask myself, ‘How can I talk about the land in new and different ways? How can I tell a story?’” Even the square canvases that Michele favors for her landscapes figure into the process: “The square does put 42 | May 2010 | élan magazine

“She perceives each scene as a jumping off point for a particular emotion or energy she hopes to convey: “‘I try to ask myself, ‘How can I talk about the land in new and different ways? How can I tell a story?’” some constraints on composition, but I enjoy it because it looks contemporary. Also I think it fits with my use of square brushstrokes.” In addition to producing images that celebrate nature, Michele occasionally injects manmade elements into her landscapes. “Simple Fields” and “Fine Fields II” convey the human touch on the earth and ways in which “we manipulate the land,” she says. “Fly Away With Me” seems to offer an aerial view of a runway. “This painting came about at a time when all of my friends seemed to be going on trips,” says Michele, “and I decided to make a mental escape.” An array of mixed media works has begun to fill one wall in Michele’s sunny studio at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. These collaged patterns, colors, words and textures serve as the artist’s comment on the natural world. Pieces such as “Hymenoptera I” and “Lepidoptera I,” from her Insecta series, celebrate the delicate and orderly worlds of bees and butterflies, respectively. Overlays of pen-and-ink details on delicate mulberry paper provide a subtle counterbalance to the mélange of colors and shapes that spring from Michele’s hand-cut rubber and cork stamps. “My collage images happen organically,” says Michele. “They’re not meant to be that literal. I start with studies, but you never know where a piece is going to end up.” A disciplined artist, Michele works at her Lorton studio five days a week. “I purposely don’t have a studio at home,” she says. “I’m much more productive when I come to the Workhouse, and I’m able to keep my work as a graphic designer separate from my artwork.” Michele benefits from the daily interactions with her fellow Workhouse artists: “We critique each other’s work and pass books around. I also enjoy meeting with visitors who drop by the studio while I’m working. Feedback from the community and my peers is important.” In addition to her peer artists, Michele cites Richard Diebenkorn as an influence: “He’s someone who looked at the land differently. You can look at the work and see where he has subtracted.” She also admires the work of Left: “Waterway,” acrylic on canvas, 36” x 36”

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contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer: “I don’t paint like him, but I’m drawn to his work because of the emotional content.” Michele is open to whatever direction her work will take in the coming months and years. “I always feel that my next project is the next big thing I’m going to do. I’ll probably return to making papers and perhaps working them into my landscapes,” she says. “I expect that whatever I do will be even more abstract. The

main thing is just to remain open to allowing accidents to happen.” Insecta is on view May 5 through June 6 at the Workhouse Arts Center’s Studio 4 Gallery. The Good Earth continues through July 26 at the Hyatt Regency Reston’s Market Street Bar & Grill.

Above: “Viewpoint,” oil on canvas, 30” x 40” Opposite, clockwise from top left: “Lepidoptera I,” collage/mixed media, 24” x 60”; “Simple Fields,” oil on canvas, 20” x 20”; and “Going Home,” collage/mixed media, 20” x 20”

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Michele norris elan article  

Northern Virginia Fine Arts Magazine, Elan, featuring article about Michele Norris.