There are no floating music notes on Norton Wright’s canvases, but you can still feel the beat of the music through the brushstrokes. Paying tribute to America’s jazz legends, Artamo Gallery sounds off with Wright’s vibrant show of artistic expressionism, aptly entitled “Jazzworks: a painter’s salute to Jazz.”
The small gallery on Anapamu explodes with musical syncopation, from the artwork on the wall to the foot-tapping jazz playing in the background. Each piece honors a jazz icon, but more innovatively, translates the staccato rhythms and longing desires of a uniquely American culture to the canvas. At first glance, the pieces may seem like random symbols forced together, but after taking a step back, each symbol proves its importance in contributing an organic whole, echoing the complexity of a jazz score.
Wright – who majored in art at Yale and studied under Bauhaus master of color Josef Albers – has a passion for the musical genre and artistic technique that presents a complicated, yet clear picture of America’s jazz revolution. Being a life-long fan of the music allows him to transpose the improvised melodies of jazz to free-form paintings such as “Sonorities,” saluting the electronic jazz of Pat Metheny or the menacing foxtrot of Stephane Grappelli in “Dans la Vie.” His marvelous use of brilliant blues, yellows and oranges enlivens the room, so that even without the music, you still want to swing to the beat. To spice it up more, Wright has included some mixed media paintings – the funky layering of different media and thick paint adding to the drama and trumpet blasts.
Encompassing the entire musical movement, the simple “The Blues” makes a bold statement. Using the literal colors – black and blue – Wright fuses strips of various hues to create a fluid swirl of musical emotion. Here, you see and feel the mix of depression and hopefulness of a classic blues song. Skipping to the more lively big bands, “Lester Leap In” salutes Lester Young, “the president of the tenor saxophone.” His hipster jazz pops on the busy painting through the condensed brushstrokes and eclectic colors, reflecting the choppy sounds.
While most of the exhibition is abstract, Wright’s “The Saxist” is a fabulous portrait praising Wayne Shorter, who played with Miles Davis. Reminiscent of a de Kooning, the saxophone and player are clearly visible among the colorful background. Wright emphasizes the lips and hands, the key elements of any great sax player. And the swirl of black paint at the bell sums up the song.
While all the art is for sale, Artamo doesn’t mind if you just bee-bop in for a modern look at the American jazz era. Take a peek before the show closes on Nov. 5. For more information, call (805) 568-1400.