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Bodies in Translation: Age and Creativity
Based in Cape Breton, Onni Nordman is the son of Finnish immigrants who moved to Canada in 1951. Educated at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, Halifax, he returned to Sydney in 1995. Nordmanís practice is rooted in painting, but his highly individual iconography also extends to collage, video, sculpture and printmaking. Presently, he teaches oil painting at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design while continuing to exhibit in solo and group shows both nationally and internationally. Most recently Nordmanís work has appeared at Finlandia University Art Gallery, Hancock, Michigan, Galleria-Artika, Helsinki, Finland, Eastern Edge, St. Johnís, Newfoundland, and Pasinger Fabrik Kultur- und Bürgerzentrum, Munich, Germany. Nordmanís work is reproduced on multiple book covers and held in public and private collections in Canada, USA, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.
Scarecrow Among the Chancellors stations a weathered survivor before a monument of top dogs. The monotyped faces on the wall are derived from a 1967 book, Swiridoff: Portraits of German Political and Economic Life, of photographs of mid-century politicians and business figures of the postwar economic miracle —Wirtschaftswunder—era. These are the faces of some of the most profoundly focused and accomplished adults in the public sphere of their time. The service-staff working stiff scarecrow is experiencing a moment of status vertigo, uncertain whether his life has borne sufficient fruit in comparison. This is expressed in the manner of the scientist Wile E. Coyote, who, having stepped off a cliff, saunters blithely on until he becomes aware of his circumstance, at which point he articulates his dread as the law of falling bodies reasserts itself.
Has one grown old without growing up? For artists, as for everyone, each instant of one's life is a moral minefield that turns us either into Isaiah Berlin's hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea, or foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea. For me art's first relevance is its heuristic value— I always want the work to be a little smarter than I am. To invent and construct ideas in concrete form is also a way of constructing one's self. The promise of a lifetime's labour is the hope of a 'late style': that is, an unprecedented, personal voice. Titian, in his late paintings, used as little paint as is humanly possible to conjure a felt reality. Beethoven, in his last piano sonata, No.32, Op. 111, effectively anticipates boogie-woogie jazz in 1822. At some point in an artist's life, perhaps one has prepared oneself by giving to art, in the form of work and thought, sufficiently that one can now take from art ideas and forms which are beyond one's grasp.