ART IN AMERICA MAY/JUNE 1977
Norman Turner's landscape and figure paintings are records of fact. The facts are simple and familiar: a New Jersey suburb, an open stretch of Vermont countryside, a female nude. The brush that records these facts is able and attentive: in Blacks River Valley a long, sweeping twist of paint opens up a vista; in Kittatinny Ridge small, contained patches of color define some scrappy underbrush. The details, worked out in colors that range from high-keyed magentas to pale, lemony blues and greens, fall neatly into place.
Turner's pictures are most eloquent when they are least evocative of a specific kind of suburban ambience or the artist’s home life. The country scenes, particularly the wide, deep vista of Blacks River Valley and the broad view of Jackson Bridge, have about them a distinctive air of expansion and release, attained through the application of certain ideas about peripheral vision—for example, at the outer edges of our field of vision, orthogonals appear curved. By painting not only what is observed straight ahead, but also what is seen out of the corner of the eye, Turner creates curved horizontals and verticals that recall, both graphically and metamorphically, the curvature of the earth, and suggest an overwhelming, perhaps pantheistic, force.
The premise upon which Turner seems to base his work is that depiction has, in and of itself, a value. Yet I wonder, in front of some of Turner's paintings, especially the nudes, if this is really enough. These views of female models are "sculpted" with thick strokes of paint in a deep, rich palette; they are related to Matisse's famous nudes of 1900-03. But an approach that was, for Matisse, an event in his passage out of conventional representation lacks, here, a compelling rationale.
Adept, at times facile, Turner is caught, almost by virtue of his skill, in a crisis of meaning. His position reminds me of certain School-of-Paris painters just before World War II, who painted landscapes of intelligence and sophistication which, like Turner's, are comprehensible in terms of certain traditional ideas about how a painting should be organized and structured. What is missing? It is, I think, that most elusive of qualities-a convincing, stylistically recognizable pictorial sensibility. And, I would argue further, it is the bud of just such a sensibility-born out of the idea of peripheral vision-that sets Blacks River Valley apart as a painting worth coming back to.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26, 1980.
By John Caldwell
In many ways, a better-conceived, though far more modest, exhibition closes Saturday at the Jersey City Museum, 472 Jersey Avenue (at Montgomery Street). Consisting of only 12 paintings by Norman Turner, it is, nevertheless, very much worth our attention.
Mr. Turner is a sort of expressionist landscape and cityscape painter. Very strong colors and forms give life to city streets and starkness, combined with occasional tenderness, to landscapes.
The artist focuses on the city as space, its trees and buildings, not its people. Occasional cars or street signs are the only indication that the city is inhabited.
One of the best landscapes, "Flatbrook Valley," shows a calm river flowing into the background, with winter trees alongside it. What sounds like Monet looks like an electrified Van Gogh.
In fact, though, color in Mr. Turner's paintings bears little relation to actuality, for it is so drastically heightened as to be more psychological than natural. Thus, a tree trunk can be, in the space of a few inches of canvas, violet, aquamarine, pink, lavender, tan and hot pink.
These are original and interesting paintings by an accomplished artist. •