By Allicette Torres
I met up with Noreen Dean Dresser a cool spring morning at a local eatery in our shared neighborhood of Harlem, New York. She smiled warmly as she carefully discarded her spring jacket and hat. She sheepishly apologized for already having breakfast. I jokingly berated her for such a faux pas, while we spun mundane conversations until my breakfast arrived. It was easy to forget the business at hand as I torn into my hedge of pain perdu and bacon while becoming sucked into Noreen?s universe. I must confess that I am lucky to call Noreen a friend and in my experience I have always found her narratives engrossing and epic. Even a banal topic such as the weather can catapult into magic.
Just as the sugar swoon from the breakfast was about to reveal itself, she navigated the conversation adeptly to its proper course by quite matter-of-fact stating, ?painting is thought of as an old mans sport?. And thus began our journey of exploring her latest series of paintings, Edges in Eternity.
Her mocked assertion of painting being for old men was her jibe at the patriarchal ideations of what ?the art rules? are?rules that she readily acknowledges and harnesses but at the same time demonstrates in a concise and effective manner that some rules are meant to be smoldered. It seems as though Noreen has build her entire career at breaking the artistic conventional norm. In a time when her peers were out to demonstrate their singular bravado, Noreen opted to flourish through a certain level of piety, harnessing her ego and educating others. During this time she had the distinguished honor of working under John Outterbridge the former Director and mentor of the Watts Towers Art center in Los Angeles California?in a period in time where a white skinned woman working in a predominantly African American community rose more than an eyebrow. If this was not sufficient, she also boldly walked away from working on the Judy Chicago piece The Dinner Party as a result of her independent thinking and inquiry regarding the intent of the methodology of the artist. Noreen?s artistic endeavors have been built on reason and truth. Her current work presents an affirmation of this.
The week prior I had the opportunity of having a sneak peak of her current work at a salon held in the studio of her cozy brownstone. I had not been emotionally prepared for the work. It was forceful and enthralling. As I looked upon her canvases I felt as if I were falling into oblivion under a cavalcade of waves and clouds. There was a static charge to the work that I had never felt while looking at landscapes, even ?the masters?. Quite foolishly, I had always found landscapes not the sort of thing that I could relate to. I saw them as distant and repetitive. Yet?I found myself in a stupor while standing in front of one of her pieces. How was it possible that I could be rocked by a mere landscape? I was astounded by how she captured magnificence, pain, sorrow, redemption and the sublime. While sitting with her a week later and discussing the work in further detail I was amused at how I could feel the sparks from her work calling me from a block away.
The Edges in Eternity paintings were visually inspired by photographs acquired from Dr. Thomas Hodson an Attorney and Economist. He is also the Environmental Branch Chief of the Planning Division, US Army Corps of Engineers New York District. Noreen shone as she commented on being impressed by the beauty of the storms in the face of the devastation they would cause. The beautiful and the chaotic locked in battle for domination. The layers of meaning in Noreen?s work seemed fibrous?the idea that we are small in comparison to the unknown vastness is ever present. She established a visual meditation on the delicate balance of humankind and their interconnectivity with the elements that they inhabit. Additionally, there clearly seems to be a commentary on the real effects of human choices in the light of wide spread catastrophe, namely the debacle of the government on the heels of the devastation of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. However, to attribute the kinetic energy in the work solely on the basis of theory and allegory regarding the human/nature dynamic would be a one-dimensional analysis. It?s imperative to note that these images also seem fueled partially by the dissolution of a pivotal relationship in her life?the work is an apparent vortex of intersections for the viewer to dissect, savor and fret over.
Of all the admirable qualities of Noreen?s work the most compelling for me was her artistic persistence in pushing through the established convention. Her work is deceptively simple at first glance. Once distilled, her masterful ability of taking an established style such as landscape painting and turning its ear by imbuing it with truth and realness is astonishing. She breathes life and the sublime into what I though was an exceptionally morose and congested genre.
View Edges In Eternity
153 W 119th St.
New York, NY 10026