For artist and founder of the ‘funism’ movement Norm Magnusson, painting leaves, rocks, and other natural artifacts is a celebration of their beauty
This project began in 2008 when my family and I were touring the southern state of Kerala in India. It was three memorable weeks of travelling from the mountains to the backwaters to the beach and all points in between. At one point, we stayed at the Marari Beach resort on the Arabian Sea, a lovely place with wonderful facilities — but no watercolor paper. When I travel, I always bring my watercolors with me to make little paintings of local leaves and whatnot.
I’d been looking for watercolor paper in every town we had visited, but with no luck. And while the hotel staff was happy to supply me with as much printer paper as I wanted, it’s just not the same. It doesn’t have the same weight as watercolor paper; it dimples when wet and generally just isn’t satisfying to paint on.
So I went to the pool. A gorgeous big pool, surrounded by chairs and tables and places for tourists to sit and relax while reading their holiday suspense novels. And there, by our little perch in the back corner of the pool, were the most beautiful big dried leaves that had fallen from a poolside shade tree. They seemed perfect to paint on. So that’s what I did.
At the end of our stay, I packed up those painted Indian leaves and brought them home. I thought maybe I would frame them up and give them as gifts, but despite my careful (read: haphazard) packing, the paint was all crumbled off of them by the time we got back to Woodstock. I thought that was the end of that, at least until our next vacation. That’s when the seed that had sprouted in India began to grow in America.
That next summer, we went to visit my dad in South Carolina and there, in his front yard, lying on the ground by a big pine tree was this nice, big, sturdy leaf that was a lot like those leaves in India that hadn’t survived the trip home. I’m not sure what kind of leaf it was, but it seemed perfect for my needs, so I brought it inside and broke out the watercolors.
Dots have been a key motif in my paintings for as long as I’ve been an artist, so it was not surprising that I felt like painting dots on this leaf. I liked the way it turned out and this time around, instead of keeping the actual leaf as the art piece, I wanted to have a photo of it as the art piece, a record of it, as the leaf itself and the watercolors I’d painted on it would crumble off or dissolve back into the earth soon enough. So I took it back to where I found it and photographed it.
The colored dots reminded me of a clown costume. I imagined it as the leaf of a fictional clown tree and gave it that title. Adding the title added a level of conceptual interest that made me think, all of a sudden, that this could be the beginning of a very interesting art project.
To date, I’ve finished about 150 of these little “interventions with nature”. When I create one, I put it up on my blog, which is a great way to keep track of them and also to share them. The blog has attracted considerable attention over the years. You can see myriad articles and interviews, reposts and exhibitions here: DecoratingNature.Blogspot.com
The series started out as a vehicle for colors and fun but immediately became, for me, a series with a deeper resonance about mankind’s complicated relationship with nature. We use nature how we see fit: we strive to bring order to it, we try to make it prettier, we try to make it more profitable. Some efforts succeed; some do not.
My ‘Decorating Nature’ series is all about those things — but also about beauty. For me, beauty is the friend of consideration. If a picture is pretty, the viewer will spend more time with it. If a viewer spends more time with it, they will begin to think beyond the surface of it and, perhaps, begin to consider the deeper meaning of it.
Lastly, this series is meant to be fun. I hope those who see it feel that it is.
Click an image below to view the gallery:
>To view an online viewbook of Norm’s work, click here.