Critics’ Picks

Norman Gilbert, Reclining Boy and Girl, 1971, oil on board, 48 x 30".

Norman Gilbert, Reclining Boy and Girl, 1971, oil on board, 48 x 30".

Glasgow

Norman Gilbert

Tramway
25 Albert Drive
September 3, 2022–February 5, 2023

This survey exhibition spans the seventy-year career of Norman Gilbert (1926–2019). The Glasgow-based artist, who worked into his nineties, produced all his drawings and paintings in a studio situated within his family home, located only a few blocks from Tramway.

Gilbert treated all his subjects—most frequently, his family, his friends, and the treasured objects that occupied his home—with the same vibrant flatness. He amplified moments of domestic intimacy; paintings show small children pouring tea, their fingers gripping a teapot, or couples lying next to each other, legs entangled. Lifting formal motifs from clothes, wallpaper, and furnishings he encountered, Gilbert managed to balance each shape, line, and color, creating compositions that hum with an unexpected serenity. In Reclining Boy and Girl, 1971, two figures adorned in bright clothes lie together on a swirling bedspread. Rather than clashing, each additional hue generates a kind of dazzle pattern, so bold that the various shades transcend fighting for real estate on the canvas, as if all the raucous energy had been compressed into tranquility. The paintings hold space for this contradiction, the chaotic and the calm.

As the artist’s house begins to empty—the children grow up and move out; his wife dies—Gilbert turns his attention to its interior, as seen in Plants, Patchwork and Two Green Chairs, 2019. The aura of family still clings to the objects that surround him, the plants nourished with their breath and the dust on the side table kicked up by their to-ing and fro-ing. Gilbert brought this all forth in the most delicate hypercolor. In doing so, he revealed the ongoing demand made on our homes: that they not only bear witness to but actively preserve the tiny histories we fill them with daily.