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Norm Profile: Cool Norm (2005)

Following on from yesterday’s Turner Prize blog entry, in which I examined the melancholy but strangely beautiful and atmospheric works of both Martin Boyce and George Shaw, it follows naturally that in today’s Daily Norm, I introduce you to one of my first Norm paintings, painted back in 2005: “Cool Norm”.

Cool Norm (Acrylic on canvas, 2005 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

He is the very essence of the urban Norm, stood resolutely before a backcloth of urban monotony, unsightly barbed wire and a variously graffitied wall. He is the epitome of “cool” with his sunglasses, cigarette, quiffed hair and biker’s gloves, recalling the protagonists of both Grease and West Side Story. In the latter story in particular, both sides of the warring Jets/Sharks gang divide were leather-clad rockstar wannabes, cool as a cucumber during the day, but unyielding in defending their urban “patch” by night, whatever the consequences. It’s a story which not only harks back to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, but also has much to say about today’s fractious urban environment, where gang warfare continues to erupt periodically, not least here, in London. This gang-led culture gained vivid prominence this summer, as the cracks in Britain’s 21st century urban society began to erupt in city riots with devastating results all over the country. Now, with the devastation swept away, and businesses rebuilding, the cracks in our urban landscape continue to rupture menancingly, only skin-deep beneath the surface, while the prominence of gangs, and the corruption of young impressionable minds continues to increase, with numerous fatalities being the tragic, inevitable result, every year.

So it’s good to be “cool” but so often, the preferred manifestation of cool is, like Cool Norm himself, an indulgence in malpractices and reckless, often criminal behaviour. It sounds cheesy, but I guess what is really cool is being individual, expressive, creative even and comfortable in yourself. Not always easy in a society which has its leaders and followers, pressure to conform, and economic hardship suppressing much of our ambition and joie de vivre. Having said that, our urban environments are always on the up – look at the docks in Liverpool, and the changes coming to Stratford, the site of the 2012 olympics. And as for graffiti, well some can be amazing, and show real talent – just look at Banksy, whose works occasionally spring up in the unlikeliest of city locations, always fantastic in their composition and the message they advance. But what a difference in these two graffiti creations which I found in Paris: the first a multi-cloured, multi-styled mess on a derelict building standing besides the famous steps ascending the Butte de Montmartre from Abbesses – and this wasn’t all. The steps were literally littered with graffiti tags in a place which has always been the very manifestation of Parisian charm. Compare that to the brilliance of my second shot, taken just round the corner from the Centre Pompidou…a striking man’s face, cleverly fitted to the side of a building, jarring artistically with the church next door. So superb street art on the one hand, vandalism and senseless mess on the other… it’s almost as though I were writing about this year’s Turner Prize nominees.

Graffiti on the steps leading up to Montmartre (2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Street art near the Pompidou (2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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