|Elliot Norquist, 2002
Elliot Norquist has spent much of his life outdoors, and the work he produces has everything to do with knowing the lay of the land. He says, "I've always been a climber, a mountaineer and explorer out in the landscape, so I've gained a sense of how things are put together out there, how they feel and what those proportions are. Being in the landscape, you get a sense of rhythm and scale and the power of it. All this time spent in the land has contributed to the kind of gut-level knowledge I have of nature, and that's an important part of how I work, and how I relate to spaces. It's the spiritual base."
From that base Norquist creates abstract wall sculptures that reflect the clarity and simplicity he sees as the essence of the Southwestern landscape. His studio in Miami, New Mexico, sits at the base of the mountains and looks out over the austere, flat eastern plains. He describes this landscape as "Agnes Martin country." The view of the far reaches of the horizon (some 80 to 90 miles away) is uninterrupted by man-made structures or lights. The influence of this spare, rigorous environment (and of the work of Agnes Martin) is evident in the subtle strength and contained refinement of his work.
Much of Norquist's work partakes of both painting and sculpture.
For example, two squares of etched galvanized sheet metal (made for roof flashing) are separated by multiple layers of cardboard and
bondo. Norquist notes that he enjoys working with ordinary readymade materials, available in a hardware store, which then become something entirely different as he combines them and works their surfaces. The sheet metal is altered by etching and in some cases painting its surface in patterns related to a grid. The
bondo/cardboard mix is sanded smooth at the edges, allowing the viewer to see the pattern of the construction.
The texture of the sheet metal itself lends yet another dimension. Norquist notes the similarity of its surface pattern to snow. Both substances have a crystal structure: what you see are crystals in layers, set at different angles. Looking at the surface of sheet metal is much the same as looking down at snow. He refers to it as a "pure dominant texture that holds its own."
In keeping with his use of the landscape as an inspiration, Norquist has done many site-specific sculptures. One such work, "Waterline," was constructed on the grounds of the Shidoni Gallery in Tesuque in 1980. Norquist considers it to have been a pivotal work in his development as an artist. The first piece that he felt was "all his," it pushed him in the direction of minimalism and aroused his interest in what he terms "bleak geometry." Another
relevant development occurred when he participated in the 1995 Monothon in Santa Fe. It was his first attempt at working with paper, and he used the opportunity to experiment with making paper look like metal. He notes that this process has now come full circle, since the metal pieces in
his recent show are worked with a surface treatment that is reminiscent of paper.
There is a certain irony in the fact that Norquist, whose love for nature and the outdoors is more than evident in the way he uses space and proportion, is also deeply interested in the relationship of different materials and the ways in which they can be made to resemble each other. For the viewer, the intersection of these two interests yields objects of spare loveliness and compelling purity, much like the landscape of the eastern plains of New Mexico.