July 3rd, 2020

Artist Joe Norman with his steel sculpture, Love/Fear"

Artist Joe Norman with his steel sculpture, Love/Fear”

 

Courtesy of Voyage Denver, where “we want the stories
we share to help give our big city a
little bit of that small town community
charm, where people know each other
and their stories at a deeper, more personal level.”

Local Stories

Joe, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I graduated with a degree in Product Design from Stanford and worked with design consulting firms for a number of years before teaching middle school and customizing vintage motorcycles. For the past eleven years, I have been a full-time sculptor, focusing on handmade and site-specific works informed by the intersection of the natural and human-made environment.

I was the Artist-In-Residence at Great Basin National Park, am an Associate Member of the National Sculptor’s Guild, and frequently speak on art and its role in social justice. My work is in permanent public and private collections across North America and am represented by galleries in Colorado, Utah, and California. I currently maintain my studio in Loveland, CO.

Joe Norman Sculpture

Joe Norman Sculpture

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It certainly hasn’t been a smooth road, but then again I didn’t sign up for that. I think some of the biggest struggles involve managing a business and concurrently participating in the art world, because those two don’t always intersect with each other. I think there’s a feeling within the contemporary art world that somehow business and money are corruptions of true expression, and we involve them as a necessary evil. I think that’s silly and simplistic; business and money are tools we have to make the world a better place. If that negatively influences what we’re trying to communicate through our art, that just means we don’t understand how to use those tools.

So, I suppose what I’m describing is the struggle to be professional, just like what we expect of lawyers, finish carpenters, and college professors. That includes showing up, charging what my time is worth, and knowing when I’ve messed up. Speaking of messing up: years ago, I was selling my blood plasma to pay for steel for a sculpture, and it didn’t go well — I’m not a big fan of needles. Afterwards, I realized what a poor series of choices I had made to put myself financially on that edge. I hadn’t priced previous work high enough to sustain my business, and I was playing into the ridiculous and damaging image of the ‘starving artist’. Sitting in my truck in the parking lot outside the plasma center I light-heatedly vowed never to put myself in that position again.

Joe Norman's "Violin Coyote," Steel and enamel

Joe Norman’s “Violin Coyote,” Steel and enamel

We’d love to hear more about your art.
I specialize in creating art for public places. This means I most often work with a combination of public entities, private individuals, and businesses to place sculpture that not only resonates emotionally and intellectually but enhances the context. A typical project includes coordinating with structural engineers, fabricators, city works departments, and community stakeholders to develop the artwork in a safe, maintainable, visually cohesive, and resonant way while remaining within the budget and on time.

I think the world of artists is an ecosystem rather than a purely competitive marketplace; many of us bring different skills and backgrounds and bounce ideas and approaches off each other in any given project. A couple of the things I feel like I bring to that ecosystem include a background in engineering (so I can figure out how to actually make the things we envision) and experience in design consulting and working with teams. Inevitably I lean on the scores of fantastically creative people in my community. Without a doubt, there is someone passionate about something I need to know (in which I’m a total moron). For example, I recently finished a project that included a hydrological toxicologist, non-contact LED engineers, and a drone pilot.

Public artwork of butterflies by Joe Norman

Public artwork, “Homeward/Monarch” by Joe Norman

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Riding bikes. It was like being able to run as fast as a car. I had no idea at the time, but now my love for bikes is augmented by what I know of their place historically as engines for equal rights and the democratization of mobility. And, even the ugliest bike still looks really cool; I commute to my studio on a Schwinn from 1967 that was my grandmother’s.

1967 Schwinn Stingray Fastback

1967 Schwinn Stingray Fastback