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Energy in light

"Looking at Painter Mark Norrander's current show at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, one might conclude that each small stroke contributes to make his work a masterstroke.The egg tempera paintings on masonite, which range from 18 to 30 inches square have up to 20 layers of tiny cross-hatched brush strokes. Working from dark to light, Norrander builds a surface that has little texture but remarkable depth and dynamism.Norrander's visual sophistication shows in his confidence in his own vision and in his sensitive handling of materials. I'm self-taught - but on the other hand, I did about a million story boards, the former art director said. They were all made up, so I think that gives me the freedom to make clouds, for instance, any way I want.Norrander's choice of subject matter and medium - landscapes in the egg tempera that predates oil painting - might suggest a complete homage to the past.In this artist's hands, however, a two-inch, pencil-thin brush used to paint the rigging of sailing ships makes tiny but wildly-swirling individual strokes that seem both controlled and expressive. Saved from the cold over-precision of some art made by painstaking layering, Norrander's paintings of a single tree or trio of clouds shimmer, blur and blend. The edges of selected objects the artist chooses not to sharply define, interlace as cross-hatched layers overlap.The degree of abstraction varies; the weakest work is the most literal, drawn directly from a photograph. In most of the pieces, however, Norrander works from memory of favorite fishing spots, and deliberately replaces the rectangular format that always implies a horizon line with a nearly-square format that presses the paintings toward abstraction.Like many artists, however, Norrander marches neither in a straight line toward abstraction or away from it, but moves, at will, along a continuum - from painting to painting, even.To me, the creative process is not to repeat myself, Norrander said. I put photos away so that I don't become a slave to them. An artist's strongest works are often those in which the formal qualities - choice of materials, scale, technique, vocabulary of shapes, palette - are indissolubly wedded to content. So two works in which brush stroke supports content in contrasting ways are the show's stunners. In one, Norrander straightens out the strokes, aiming them at the distance to converge at the horizon, visually reinforcing perspective to make one feel that one is zooming into the painting at warp speed.The other takes the opposite tack, allowing the baroque flourishes of each stroke to take over, making the landscape seem to glow and expand. Light is energy, Norrander said. It's in the air.Norrander's infuses his paintings with that conviction.* * * * *Mark Norrander shows at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts June 2 - July 1. For information call 842-3132. "

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