With delicately rendered forms and subtle colors, this suite of prints reflects Norsten's interest in creating relationships between the formal elements in his work. The artist repeats motifs such as lines and dots to create images that stand alone yet benefit from proximity to each other. As Norsten explains, "The similar elements are configured in different ways with different colors and tones." The medium of printmaking allowed him to create serial work that will still be affordable. A 1990 graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Norsten has been the recipient of Jerome and McKnight Fellowships. His work can be found in the collections of the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the British Museum, as well as in numerous galleries across the United States. Born in Sunberg, Minnesota (population 130) Norsten relishes the Minnesota landscape and natural habitats, elements which at times appear subtly in his work. Norsten gains inspiration from contemporary as well as historic artists. He is also interested in his daughter's drawing processes.
Norsten came to this project with a background in drawing, painting, and printmaking. By collaborating with Cole Rogers, Highpoint's Master Printer, Norsten was able to work with a large number of plates and explore unfamiliar technical possibilities such as spit bite. Rogers explained: "the spit bite technique is pretty straightforward. The artist paints a mordant (traditionally nitric acid, but we use Ferric Chloride) mixed with something to keep the mordant from beading up (traditionally saliva, but we use liquid dish soap!) directly on the plate to create nuanced tonal drawings that are fluid and soft."
During the project, Norsten worked on more than forty plates in all. In a recent interview at HP the artist discussed the process: "I came to Highpoint towards the beginning of January and started fiddling around, and then got a little more serious about it in February. I dragged it out all the way until March, I just kept going. I didn't anticipate how much I'd enjoy coming to Highpoint, I didn't think it was going to be torturous or anything, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the people and the facilities." After making plates involving a variety of technical processes, the artist elected to create editions from copper plates that incorporate spit bite, etching, engraving, drypoint, scraping, burnishing and chine collé. The editions were printed at Highpoint this Summer 2003.
Cole Rogers, Highpoint's Master Printer, described the collaborative nature of the project: "Initially, Todd and I were interested in a suite, or body, of work rather than a few single prints. That's more of a challenge because each one needs to support the whole, and the self-referential nature keeps it from being about just translating other (such as painterly or sculptural) visions. Right away Todd sketched out a series of print ideas on a piece of newsprint that looked pretty finished and we jokingly called it our 'plan for world domination.' By the time the editions were decided on; it was about 5 months later, Todd had sketched out four or five new plans, we had used 43 copper plates (most worked on both sides), we had made about 200 proofs, and we felt great about the results. We had thought that a good portion of the project would be lithography, some intaglio, some relief and possibly some screenprinting, but it ended up being all intaglio and some chine collé! I really enjoyed working on this project with Todd; it was a bit like taking a road trip with lots of stops and diversions to interesting and funky places you hadn't been before."
Norsten's artistic process is one of intuitive discovery, a kind of investigation and meditation that allows him to uncover formal and spatial possibilities that exist in the world. These formal explorations have analogs in real world experience, for the quality and pattern of Norsten's mark-making reflects his emotions and sensibility. Says Norsten, "I don't see myself as an expressionist, and I don't map out what I'm going to do ahead of time. I never sit down to depict an emotion, I look at it as a more general thing, I see my art as a reflection of thinking and feeling about what it means to be human."
Norsten's favorite part about the creative process is the way it helps him expand his pre-conceived notions of self and art. "Sometimes I make things that look stupid, or I make art that doesn't look like what I would create, but those are often the coolest things. I like making art when I'm outside of myself and am larger than what I limited myself to be."