Dressed in a cadmium red jumper, he suggested I interview him in his studio. I have to confess to being rather overawed in his place of work where there were huge finished canvases propped against the wall or on easels. It was their size that awed me, I was in the presence of a considerable artist surrounded by his creations. Perhaps it is his ability as a teacher that gives him such fluidity in communicating the connections and influences in his life that have made him the artist he is to-day. He also talked of some of the art world he has experienced in his long life.
The Kosovo tragedy was at its height when I interviewed him and on his easel was a memorable painting. Norman Adams explained to me that his thought processes were prompted by the columns of names of the dead on war memorials; he had transformed the letters of dead soldiers’ names into stick like figures, the black clusters being very dense at the bottom of the picture and some were half disappeared under the frame. Although the background was multicoloured the patches of blood red stood out. It might be thought from my description it was a sad picture but man's resurrection is somehow conveyed amongst the holocaust. The theme of spiritual revelation pervades his work and the colour red, I suspect, has many meanings for him.
Fun had re-emerged after the war years and there wasn’t the pervasive cynicism of the 1990s; the building of the Festival Hall drew assent from the majority of the population, unlike the current attitude to the Millennium Dome. As well as serious exhibitions, Emmet had designed a labyrinthine railway and fountains. Joseph Herman, a Jewish refugee who had left Poland before the war and settled in Wales, had paintings in the Mining Pavilion of men going down the pits. During the war the national art heritage was stored in Welsh mountain caves and the only access artists had to original paintings was one picture at a time displayed in the entrance to The National Gallery. Italy had been out of bounds as one of the axis powers and France had been occupied, so the Renaissance works and those of Picasso and Matisse were inaccessible. As war ended the Tate re-opened. In 1948 and 1949 Anna and Norman travelled abroad to hitch-hike across France. They had never been outside Britain before, and they got to Vezelay. The second time they went on bicycles and got as far as Port Vendre, beyond Perpignan. They filled sketch books with drawings. They knew the work of Giotto from a black and white film shown at Harrow Junior Art School, and what Norman really wanted to paint was religious subject matter. He explained he can't really conceive of painting separately from the religious, but not necessarily the orthodoxy religious. He is a very articulate man and it seems no coincidence that one of his early inspirational heroes was William Blake. He spoke of recently re-reading van Gogh's letters which he describes as being as powerful as his paintings.
“This was the era of the most important works I ever did” he said, “The country engendered thoughts of flight and the remoteness of the moors”. Later he realised what he really wanted to concentrate on was religious subject matter. Perhaps his Stations of the Cross in a Manchester city church will remain some of his most accessible works. The tragedy at the heart of the Christian religion unfolds through these fourteen oil paintings on the walls of St. Mary's Mulberry Street Catholic Church. The paintings culminate through the chaos of Christ's torture and death (painted in red) on the day of the Crucifixion to the whirling wind of saints coming out of their graves at the Resurrection.
I was moved by his thoughts about recent major exhibitions especially his remarks about that of Braque’s Later Works some three years ago. A whole lifetime's work is contained amongst the paraphernalia of the studio and he re-called the series of Braque’s paintings of his own studio, especially the one where all the objects are piled together in a heap on a table. Norman Adams in his red jumper didn’t seem anywhere near the stage of packing away his studio.
Linton Court Gallery, Settle will have an exhibition of his works starting on 8th July 2000. This year is also the Gallery’s twentieth anniversary, Norman Adams was the first exhibitor in 1980 and he will be showing large water colours.