Artists on Coping: William Norton

During the coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

William Norton in his studio. Photograph by Rafael Fuchs

William Norton’s medium of choice is a mixture of drawing and carving, using a dremel and a router to carve lines by hand into large plexiglass sheets, letting light be what illuminates the artwork through casting shadows and reflections. Working from charcoal drawings and photographs all the work is autobiographical in nature, mostly an attempt to understand what it means to be a man, an issue that’s plagued him for decades stemming from the moment his 4 year old son was kidnapped and disappeared.

AS: How are you coping?

WN: I’ve been contemplating this since December as I’ve been following reporters on Twitter out of Wuhan (several of whom have stopped reporting, they have either died or been imprisoned). So I’ve been wearing gloves every day for months. Right now, I’m just doing a more rigorous rendition of my daily routine as I’ve always spent a lot of time in the studio. I get up, make coffee, check the news, check on my tribe, send out as many bad jokes as I can, exercise 30 minutes on the Elliptical, do some free weights, spend 20 minutes in the sauna, eat breakfast, walk the dog and then work in the studio. Dance a lot.

“Ghosts in the Machine, Winter.” 2014, 84” x 240” x 1.5”, Hand Etched Plexiglass with Shadows . Photograph by Butcher Walsh

AS: Has your routine changed?

WN: Yes. To earn a living, I’ve been fortunate the last several years to work as an Art Handler for the Whitney Museum. It’s been a warm, inclusive family and I cannot go there to work anymore as it’s closed for now. So now, like everyone else, I’m on lockdown with one more week of voluntary self-quarantine left. (I have not shown any symptoms, I’m just doing my civic duty.)

I’m fortunate my studio is in my home loft so I’m working as many hours per day as I can. I have one big piece I’m working on right now that I want to finish. It’s currently still a work in progress but it’s about Cops in Full Battle Gear. The plexiglass sheets are all movable, much like pocket doors, so the image can change. Most of the carving is done but the top platform and other elements need work.

Cops in Full Battle Gear. (Work In Progress), 111” x 120” x 14”, Hand Etched Plexiglass with Shadows and Reflections, aluminum, wood. Photograph by Norton

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

WN: It’s really complicated for me on many levels as I’ve previously lost everything all the way down to zero, 6 times and this was my 7th time trying to rebuild my life. In some ways I’m therefore inured to having very little, but I’m concerned for so many people. This is the type of cataclysm Fascists love to take full advantage of. Racist scapegoating has already been rampant since the last election and it’s only going to be exacerbated now. The wealthy are using this moment to hoard their cash and power and the rest of us are going to have much harder times.

Cops in Full Battle Gear. 2020, 96” x 96”, Charcoal on 100% Rag Paper. Photograph by Norton

AS: What matters most right now?

WN: Checking in on my tribe and family. Keeping healthy. Working in the studio. Voting these monsters out of office.

Creation Theorie: Blood Moon. 1998-2019, 84” x 96” x 7.5”, Hand Etched Plexiglass and Black Plexiglass with Shadows, Reflections and Wood. Photograph by Norton

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

WN: Mostly just care for my friends, family and the HeiHei dog. In October I’m supposed to be traveling to Japan to install the work of 6 very talented artists (Chris Ketchie, Xiaowei Chen, Etty Yaniv, Sonomi Kobayashi, Natsuki Takauji, Daniel John Gadd and myself) in the Kameyama Triennial. We will be taking over an old pharmacy built sometime in the late 1800’s. Outside of that, work in the studio, as it’s my anchor, and survive.

Divine Wind. 2018-2019, 102” x 21.5” x 3.5, Hand Etched Plexiglass with Shadows and Reflections. Photograph by Norton