The Boston Globe

Gunnar Norrman

Considering True North; 'Sifting' through History

The Boston Globe, Thursday, April 4, 1996, by Cate McQuaid.

Art can be didactic, impassioned, provocative, visceral. Only rarely does art return its viewer to a quiet, still point. Even pieces intended to evoke reverie (Stephen Antonakos' current chapel-like installation at the Art Institute of Boston, "The Room," comes to mind) are often betrayed by the mechanics of their intention. Grace is not something that can be engineered.

The Swedish artist Gunnar Norrman, 84, whose prints and drawings are now on view at the Pucker Gallery, finds peace in making his still lifes and landscapes. It's clear that this artist doesn't dally with the impact his work will have on viewers; his concern is purely with the act of making art, and his work embodies the meditative clarity that Norrman finds in putting pencil to paper.

Norrman is an artist of tonalities and exquisitely delicate line. He renders the beaches and marshes of his native Malmö, Sweden, in shades of gray. Everything shimmers out from or fades behind a gossamer fog. The earliest piece in the exhibit, a 1945 lithograph, shows a house at water's edge in deep fog. The face of the house glows eerily white and reflects in the water; around this brilliant center, everything else falls away in soft grays. What might be a figure huddles forlornly at the edge of a barely described dock, extending away from the house into the water.

There are few figures in Norrman's work. His preoccupation is with the whispers and shadows of nature. Most of his prints are not rough-textured lithographs but dry-point etchings. With dry-point, the artist draws directly onto a copper plate with a stylus, allowing for slender lines and muted tones. "Strandpalar", a 1975 etching, is an almost mystical play of light and shadow at water's edge. The beach is dusky gray, blacker toward the shore; the water is a sweet, paler gray, like a dove's breast. The tide is going out, and a dark spit of land juts into the water, stubbled with old posts. The horizon line is barely visible; the sea drifts seamlessly into the sky.

Norrman's works are small — there are 50 in this retrospective exhibit. Each is everything it should be: one hushed moment, brief but fully realized.

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