Adam Normandin: Yard ~ an interview with the artist

37 West 57 Street . New York 10019 . 212.593.3757 .
ADAM NORMANDIN: YARD: Solo exhibition 4 – 27 September 2014

Feature Image: Adam Normandin, “Change of Plan,” oil & acrylic on panel, 22×38″, 2014

Click here to view Normandin’s website.

Tonight at Dawn: The vibrancy of your paintings in Yard beautifies subjects that may appear drab to most people; why freight trains and graffiti? Why not create graffiti rather than recreating it?

Adam Normandin (AN):  Perhaps freight trains do indeed appear drab to some. They are not made to be beautiful, after all. They are purely functional objects …they are made to serve a purpose. But with use and the passing of time, I think they become something interesting and quite beautiful. There is a patina that develops from all the layers of grime, rust and graffiti as the trains move across the miles, year after year. This patina transforms each train car into something with a unique persona. It is this time imparted character that I identify with and ultimately is the point of my work. For me, this story of freight trains parallels our own fragile existence; that as we gather more experience in life, the more interesting we become.

The graffiti in my work is among the accumulated details that help shape a story. Similar to tattoos on an old sailor, these marks represent a moment of time and place, as well a path taken in a life’s journey. The graffiti is also representative of a certain dialog that occurs on the train cars. The tags are boldly placed upon the sides of a train for all those who happen to see it roll by. This dialog occurs between the graffiti and the rail coding and also from one graffiti artist to another. All these layers come together like different voices in the same conversation. The tags also suggest a story within a story, since each graffiti artist clearly made his mark as a commentary to be seen by others. The graffiti is filled with its own symbolism, style and purpose that has a history all its own but I prefer to leave this part of my story open-ended and up to the viewer’s imagination. Simply put; If something so drab and mundane as a freight train can communicate such depth and complexity, then perhaps we can find meaning in the most ordinary aspects of our own lives.

Simply put; If something so drab and mundane as a freight train can communicate such depth and complexity, then perhaps we can find meaning in the most ordinary aspects of our own lives.

Tonight at Dawn: According to the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery’s press release for Yard, you trespass into train yards in the early morning for your art; I presume you photograph the trains and paint them in your studio? Do you have any interesting stories from your excursions?

AN: Well, trespass sounds a little criminal, but I must admit that it is occasionally true. Rail yards are hazardous places, filled with broken glass, rusty spikes and other illicit debris that could easily cause harm. Of course, trains are quite large and they move very fast, so the yards are not the safest of places to wander around by one’s self. I typically go down to the tracks on Sunday mornings, when the neighboring businesses are closed and the likelihood of running into people who might alert the rail cops is low.

I find an odd sense of peace when the yards are quiet, and stories fill my head as I wander around photographing the train cars. On one occasion in St Louis, a conductor that was moving cars around the yard spotted me with my camera. He actually stopped his locomotive and climbed down to chat with me. He was a very nice man and eager to show me all the photos of trains and graffiti that he kept on his iPhone. We ended up chatting for a while, before he received a radio call and needed to get back to work. I gave him my card and asked to keep in touch, but I have never heard from him. I really like that my art connects me to people from of all walks of life.

Adam Normandin, "Companion", oil and acrylic on canvas, 36x43"
Adam Normandin, “Companion”, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36×43″

Tonight at Dawn: Besides Los Angeles, what other locations have you used in this series?

AN: For the most part my paintings are not intended to be site specific. They are meant to be anywhere, or nowhere in particular. The yards are among those “in between” places beyond the periphery of most. Occasionally, I do include details that suggest a location, such as snow, or other obvious regional variations, but my intent is more to suggest the traveling nature of the trains rather than about a specific location. That said, this show is primarily from Los Angeles, with a few from St Louis (winter scenes). I have also shot and painted trains from New York, New Jersey, Seattle, Portland, Indianapolis, Mojave, Barsto and of course, Southern California, where I live.

Tonight at Dawn: Can you briefly describe the strategy you use to create such a high level of realism in your pieces?

AN: My process begins with photography. It is not unusual for a painting to be composed of several different reference photos that I combine in photoshop. I often edit, rearrange, change colors, or add details to enhance the overall point of the painting. Once I am satisfied with an image, I sketch it on the panel and begin the painting process. It starts out loosely, and I work the painting from the back round first to front. Layer by layer, details are added until the work feels whole to me. It is really not my objective to replicate photos. At a certain point, the reference images are no longer useful and I put them away to finish the work based on its quality as a painting. I suppose it is just in my nature to be highly detailed, and I really enjoy getting into the subtle grit and surface texture of the subject.

I suppose it is just in my nature to be highly detailed, and I really enjoy getting into the subtle grit and surface texture of the subject.

Tonight at Dawn: You use both acrylic, which is fast-drying, and oil, which better enables blending and reworking for a longer period of time; how do you employ each type of paint?

AN: I like acrylics for building the underpainting and for rendering certain details. I use an airbrush quite a bit, and acrylics are really much better suited for this tool. The soft lines and details of the motion are all rendered with airbrush. Oil paint is terrific for achieving the more delicate details of the painting, such as the gritty weathering on the surface of a train car. I apply thin, transparent glazes over the acrylic underpainting and I find that it adds depth and richness to the work.

Tonight at Dawn: Many of the factors in your compositions vary; the objects are portrayed in motion or still, from different vantage points, from afar or up-close, etc. How deliberate are these choices? How much of your choices are based on a play of the visual appearance or is there something you are attempting to point out to the viewer (perhaps in the actual graffiti or printed words that are in the frame)?

AN: All of my paintings are quite deliberate. All of them connect to the underlying theme of my work on one level or another. I find the yards to be an endless source of inspiration and I enjoy exploring this subject from as many points of view as I can possibly discover. At this point, I am somewhere near 100 paintings in this body of work and I feel like I am just getting started.

Tonight at Dawn: In the compositions of trains in motion, I really appreciate the choice of still objects -such as the “STOP” sign in “Change of Plan”- in the foreground or background because they appear to serve as anchors to these paintings. In that particular piece, are you drawing a contrast between the motion and the sign with the title? Can you comment further on these choices?

AN: Thank you. I really enjoyed making this painting and indeed, the stop sign is a playful contrast to the motion concept of the work. The still objects help define the scene and also enhance the overall feeling of motion. In contrast, the motion detail adds to the stillness of the non moving parts. It is somewhat of a balancing act.

Tonight at Dawn: As a graduate of Hofstra University in Long Island, New York; can you compare the L.A. and the New York art scenes?

AN: Well, Hofstra was a long time ago. My focus at that point in life was not necessarily on any scene but survival and how to make a painting that was authentic to me. I moved to LA shortly after graduation and have been working on that plan ever since! Now, many years later, I live in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles and I must admit that I still don’t feel that I am part of any scene. I think each artist is on their on their own unique path and must find their audience. Being an artist is anything but easy and my hat’s off to anyone who makes a go of it …wherever they happen to be.

Tonight at Dawn: Share one thing about you that may be quirky or interesting.

AN: I have a retired racing greyhound named Olive. She is my painting pal, and almost always with me.

Adam Normandin, "Through the Cracks," oil & acrylic on panel, 22x38", 2012
Adam Normandin, “Through the Cracks,” oil & acrylic on panel, 22×38″, 2012



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