William Jackson - Night and Day

There are some artists who choose to work in isolation, away from studio complexes and are consciously non-aligned to artist’s groups or associations. Their work will inevitably reflect and echo this self-imposed seclusion, which is very much the case with Gro Thorsen.  The narrative in her figurative compositions, be it the assemblage of small fragmented ‘snap shot’ images on aluminium, arranged in multiple groups, ranging from as few as eight to many hundreds, or the spacious, almost monochrome canvas of various scales; all express the loneliness of her sleek and anonymous, but upwardly mobile figures.

Thorsen is an observer of people and the manner in which they interact in crowded shopping streets or in large, modern, clinically clean business plazas. Who are these people? What are they doing? Where are they going? What are they about? They stride purposefully like graceful androids, expressionless and vacant, but with an occasional smile or double glance confirming the fact that they have emotions. One is reminded of the uncompromising power and presence of Giacometti’s groups of striding figures, elongated and elegant but curiously robotic.

There is an extraordinary painting unusually titled ‘The Lonely Man’, unusual in that the artist never uses titles as she believes there is sufficient narrative in the works for the viewer to interpret the content.  The minute figure initially appears lost and static within a vast empty space, but on closer examination one realises that there is a sense of confident and decisive movement and an understanding that there is an objective.  Other large canvases contain a number of small figures but they do not relate and go about their activities unimpaired and unaffected by each other.  But ironically, the medium sized and smaller canvases have within them larger figures which one would assume would be conditioned by one another, or even impinge on their respective routes and progress across the picture plane. But in fact they re-enforce their own determination to achieve their aims.

There is a direct relationship between these quiet and thoughtful paintings with their impersonal Alex Katz type figures, with their sensational and subtle light sources and the busy vibrant ‘snapshot’ image compilations.   They are both sourced from the artist’s own video footage but where as the paintings are based on ‘city types’ in a bleak environments; the other could be described as more colourful shopping expeditions in the form of a series of pictorial journals. ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ are two such works which consist of 117 studies on 8 x 8 centimetre aluminium panels, arranged in vertical and horizontal rows of 9 x 13, giving the appearance from a distance of the regularly spaced windows of an office block or of an apartment building.

But on closer scrutiny, they become a lively medley of heads, legs and bodies adorned with shoes, ties, dresses and suits and further   embellished with hand bags and shopping bags. In ‘Day’ there are the essential sun glasses where as in ‘Night’, there is the feeling of a chill in the air with upturned collars and rain coats. Perhaps the most fascinating element, as with the canvases, is the light which again is essentially described and highlighted by the positioning of the feet. The shadows indicate the source and direction of the natural or artificial light and assist in identifying the pace and direction of the figure. A further interesting and new development is apparent in ‘Night’, as reflections from shop windows counter play with street lighting and multi coloured neon advertising signs producing a more enclosed and intermit atmosphere.

These are highly intelligent works which have a depth and consequence which needs to be discovered.  There are continual references to minimal stage sets such as Goetz Friedrich’s opera productions, as well as Film Noir and the Cinema Verite movement, in which the amateur plays the significant role.  Her players act out their parts within the pressures and constraints of daily life and force us to examine our own priorities and ambitions.  To study these paintings is to understand more about human nature and though we are all very different to those who know us well, perhaps Thorsen is informing us that we are basically all the same and follow the same behavioural patterns whether we would wish to believe it or not.

William Jackson
July 2006