Artist Interview: Felicita Norris

Felicita Norris

Why did you choose painting over other artistic expressions?
Even though I consider myself primarily a painter, my practice is multidisciplinary, including performance, installation, and photography as precursors to the final “edit.” As for why I chose to make painting my primary medium, it’s because I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and painting since high school, regularly inspired by Disney cartoons, comics, and fashion. The processes of drawing and painting go hand-in-hand, so even though I’ve experimented with other mediums, painting remains challenging enough for me to keep learning from it. It’s also the one form of creating that I continuously find gratifying.

Are the people and situations in your paintings fictional or real? If they are real, why did you choose those particular people?
Both the people and the situations in my paintings are real. For me, my paintings can only be sincere if I personally know who I’m working with. Sincerity is important to my work because I find that viewers, including myself, respond more enthusiastically to something real and relatable.

Initially, I began working with family members because it was just easier to use them as models-on-hand. As my paintings evolved, I learned that they could also represent someone like them, in which case they have become more like characters to me and less of who they really are. Ironically, they really are who they are in the paintings, much like the paintings really are my thoughts, collectively creating some sort of narrative about all of us. Ultimately, I end up exposing more of my family and myself through each painting, so anyone I choose to paint has to be okay with that. Until then, the family-feedback-loop continues…

Why do you choose depicting your characters in intimate domestic settings?
Honestly, it started out as an intuitive decision. I was looking for a way to express some deeper state of mind, something more psychological, and interiors, even in dreams, are said to represent our psyches, our egos, or our personalities. The use of domestic settings heightens that sense of familiarity, and possible “trapped-ness.”

Your artworks invoke heavy, intense and complicated emotions. Are these emotions inspired by personal experiences?
Yes, they are, but not necessarily always literal experiences.

What comes up for you when you depict violent situations in your artwork?
You know that insatiable urge we have as human beings to look at or do things we aren’t supposed to? You feel guilty or “dirty” inside because you did, but you just can’t help yourself? I’m forcing myself to confront themes that might feel wrong because like most artists, I’m questioning why. It took me years to be able to make this type of work and when I recreate scenes, especially violent ones, I try to separate myself from the imagery and just think about the painting as an object and less of a reality.

The violence is complicated because I’m not a vicarious victim, but the violence in my paintings is about making the personal political; about exposing my own experiences because it’s where I come from and it’s what I have to talk about right now. I’m dealing with things that we know and see and have possibly experienced, but are difficult to admit. My work isn’t about staying angry or depressed or something like that, it’s more about a time, or a moment, or a thought, calling to question some primitive mindset when we choose to be voyeurs.

What informs the color palettes, scale & perspectives of your paintings?
Many things inform how I make a painting; some things are planned, some are intuitive, some are happy accidents.

Size: I choose to paint large because the subject matter is heavy and needs space; I might make smaller paintings, but it really depends on what the image needs.
Color: I like the drama and psychology that comes from using bright colors, but sometimes I feel subtle and use subtler colors to contrast the violence or to make it more real.
Perspective: The perspectives are intuitive, orchestrating multiple photo shoots to get just the right framing. I also like the drama, distortion, and disorientation that comes from strange angles, which is probably a subconscious response to films, graphic novels, and comic books.

After receiving the Jack and Gertrude Murphy Fellowships and the Edwin Anthony and Adelaine Bourdeaux Cadogan Scholarships Awards, administered by The San Francisco Foundation, and participating in the accompanying exhibition, what does the future hold for you as an artist?
Of course I’ll be making more paintings and showing more, but I also want to visit Europe to see the works of painting masters like Jacques Louis David, Caravaggio, Géricault and Rembrandt in person to absorb even more techniques and history of painting.

About the Interviewer:
Milda Vakarinaite is an Arts Leadership Associate at SOMArts.

Image above by Felicita Norris