December 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When you are a master serigrapher, making a good impression counts. An affable local artist named Joshua Norton does that. Talking about his work, it’s clear that what he loves is the democratic, even plebeian, nature of printmaking—one of the oldest crafts as well as one of the most useful at injecting art into our everyday lives. Printing, or serigraphy, is so useful it decorates and improves other art forms. Imagine modern music or film without posters, album covers, and T-shirts to connect fans to their favorite artists.

The everyday usefulness of this art form often earns it the derogatory “craft” label. While it is a description that the 38-year-old Norton, facilities coordinator at the Union for Contemporary Art, does not deny, he denounces the sneer that can come with the designation.

“ ‘Craft’ is not a dirty word,” says Norton from his Dundee studio. Speaking over a large stack of brightly-colored posters featuring rock stars, country singers, and other creatures of the night, Norton says he counts the German expressionists of  Die Brücke (The Bridge) among his influences, but his art is about pop culture.

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“I’m not influenced directly by the art world. I draw more from posters, movies, graphic art, and comics. Art is not solely the province of high culture. There also isn’t as much high art in high art these days.”

The serigrapher’s art is archaic, dating back more than 5,000 years to Mesopotamia, but according to Norton, printmaking is a thoroughly modern art, one that manages to be as expressive as it practical.

“There is high art in printmaking,” Norton says. “Poster art is very big, very popular. Rock art is still very popular. Artists like Stanley Donwood screen print rock posters and album covers for Radiohead.”   

This native of Lake City, Minnesota—birthplace of water skiing—credits his father and high school art teacher with developing his early interest in printmaking. He moved to Omaha in the summer of 2013 and became facilities coordinator of the Union for Contemporary Art that November. Norton taught printmaking and drawing at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He obtained his master’s from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The artist’s mission at the Union is creating greater access to resources for art across the socioeconomic spectrum of the Omaha metro. Norton is also the architect of the Union’s print shop, which gives him a chance to spread his love of serigraphy around.

“At the Union for Contemporary Art, I built the print studio,” Norton says. “During the day, I design and print posters for our events while running the co-op and helping other artists with their projects.”

Omaha has an accomplished and diverse visual art scene worth nurturing, according to Norton.

“It’s a growing scene. It’s not lacking anything…it’s a work in progress. The important thing is that artists are supported in the community. I’m really proud to be living and working in Omaha.”

Norton was one of 37 artists featured in Joslyn Art Museum’s “Art Seen: A Juried Exhibition of Artists from Omaha to Lincoln” which closed last month. Encounter

Visit joshuanorton.net to learn more.

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