• Laurel Contributor

A Curious Art Spectacle

by Luke Osteen

There’s something majestic about the paintings of O.M. Norling, unveiled this month at The Bascom. Majestic and more than a little mysterious. They demand a careful browse, and lodge themselves firmly in your subconscious, so that a few hours or a few days after your encounter, you’re still trying to unravel the riddles embedded in the canvas.

And somehow it’s all predicated on a bit of family lore that’s just as unforgettable as those images.

“In 1843, a young man disappeared without a trace from a modest family farm in Sweden,” Norling explains. “Seven years later, his mother received a letter postmarked from America. It was from her son, O.M. Norling. He explained that a compulsion to experience this faraway land had driven him to leave behind all that he knew. He’d stowed away on a trans-Atlantic steamer to make his ambition a reality. He worked his way up the Mississippi, changed his name to Alexander Wilson and settled in Illinois – never to return to Sweden.

“The young man is my great-great grandfather. To put so much on the line to obey a compulsion…the audacity of this story was unnerving to me as a younger man. But now, with more years behind me, the sheer volume of life force it represents captivates and motivates me as an artist. Though I’m named Jay WIlson, for over a decade, I’ve signed my paintings, O.M. Norling.

“With pencil, brush and oil paint, I construct eccentric compositions made up of animals, objects and furniture that all echo another time. They are beautiful, dark and humorous stories about the human experience.

“For a while I’ve been very interested in what lies beyond the passing glance, It’s so easy to get caught up in the noise and the pace of everyday life that the quiet details of the in-between often get overlooked. I think we’ve become satisfied with a Venetian-blind view of people and our surroundings. But, what does the world look like when you slow down, look behind the glance and see through the blur?”

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