Norton Wisdom

Norton Wisdom began his artistic life at fourteen when he attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. A student of the luminous John Altoon (one of the preeminent artists of West Coast avant-gardism of the 50’s and 60’s), Wisdom was introduced, not only to the fundamentals of figure drawing, but also to the bold conceptual-based and humanistic thinking which would lay the groundwork for his future endeavors.

Wisdom first began exhibiting his own work in San Francisco in the 1970s but withdrew all of his work from galleries in 1974 and spent the following eight years immersed in studio work. That same year he became a lifeguard and the endless hours he spent staring out at the ocean while working on the beaches of Malibu, Topanga and Zuma contributed to his minimalist vision as a painter. In the late 1970s while in Germany for an exhibition, Wisdom painted over 150 meters of the East side of the Berlin wall during the night using searchlights to illuminate his work. He was subsequently arrested, detained and sent back to the U.S. but the experience convinced him that he could no longer work in the static studio environment and soon he began collaborating with punk bands and working in a performative style. Wisdom has been painting to live music ever since with bands like Panic and Banyan along with musicians Mike Watt and Stephen Perkins. His live, improvisational paintings are temporary interpretations of music that only exist during the space of the performance. The paintings are destroyed but a c-print of the piece resurfaces in remix collages mounted on canvas.

Wisdom has performed around the world at venues as varied as the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, to the Butu Dance Company in Japan, and locally at the Walt Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. His paintings and sculpture can be found in the permanent collections of notable museums including the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, the Milwaukee Art Center, Wisconsin, and the Orange County Museum of Art.

The show also contains select pieces from Steven Friedman's Pole collection: linear imagery painted in one brushstroke on acrylic rods. The paint is mixed on the brush and during application in a process that has the character of caligraphy, except to render not linguistic signs but landscapes, figures and vistas, discreetly. The result is a visual haiku. In constructing the images, horizontal axes abstract as landscapes, vertical axes as figures.


From the Vault
September 8 - December 9, 2012

The University Art Museum, CSULB, highlights important artworks from their permanent collections in an exhibition entitled From the Vault. It features new acquisitions to the collection along with works from the museum’s Gordon Hampton Collection of Abstract Expressionist and Color Field paintings.

Curated by UAM Director Chris Scoates, From the Vault offers an opportunity to explore abstract renderings of color and form that expand upon the gestural inspirations of Abstract Expressionism. Artwork included in From the Vault spans several decades, and speaks to the evolution of abstraction in painting over the 20th Century. By connecting artists such as Michael Goldberg, Richard Diebenkorn,Emerson Woelffer, Hannelore Baron, and Kris Chatterson, this exhibition links the influential legacy of the New York School and L.A. Modernism to a select group of emerging contemporary painters.

Compelling signature canvases by Lee Krasner, a stunning Adolf Gottlieb pictograph painting, and classic abstract expressionist works by Michael Goldberg puncuate an eclectic homage to abstract painting in this exhibition. New acquisitions in From the Vault add to the UAM’s collection of non-objective art and encourage visitors to analyze the meaning of abstraction in new, more personal ways.

View all the artworks in From the Vault via our Currently on View portal in the UAM Permanent Collections Online.

Artists in From the Vault:
Hannelore Baron
Kris Chatterson
Richard Diebenkorn
Michelle Fierro
Michael Goldberg
Adolph Gottlieb
Lee Krasner
Milton Resnick
Norton Wisdom
Emerson Woeffler


Gerald Nordland, Chicago, 1993
Norton Wisdom / THE STYLECON
by Keely Weiss
LA Weekly by Shana Nys Dambrot
VAS Review by A. Moret
90265 Magazine
Norton Wisdom