Originally from Paris, Norbert Waysberg moved to New York in 2005. Since his arrival, he has been captivated by the inimitable energy of the urban environment and its awe-inspiring infrastructure. His mature artistic practice can be understood as a translational process in which he observes, records, and gives powerful new form to his first-hand experiences of the city. He developed a studio practice later in life, only after a career in the tech industry. His formal artistic training began at the Art Student League—where he studied for 6 years—mastering the conventional techniques of painting and drawing. During his intense studies, he came to know and emulate Paul Ching-Bor’s contemporary approaches to watercolor painting. For both artists, they challenge the traditional scale and methods of watercolor, pushing it in new directions and upending viewers' preconceptions about the medium.
Norbert Waysberg, QueensBoro bridge, 2019. Watercolor on Arches Paper on 2 panels, 90 x 90 inches.
For Waysberg, watercolor is the medium best suited for him to be able to express his thoughts and feelings about the urban experience. His watercolor paintings are quite large, some approaching 90 by 90 inches. His highly idiosyncratic process begins by first wandering around the peripheries of the city to scout out vantage points from which to take photographs. From this photographic record, the French artist selects and then projects the image onto the walls of his studio in order to mark key compositional points on the supporting paper. This system helps ensure that the proportions and perspective are correct. Using Arches Paper, an especially thick, coarse cotton substrate, Waysberg begins to build up the 50-60 layers that comprise his finished paintings. The artist describes this process as a physical or sculptural exercise because to build up his images there are additive and subtractive stages where he uses a variety of specialty tools to manipulate the unforgiving properties of watercolor.
Norbert Waysberg, Storm, Venice, 2018. Watercolor on Arches Paper on 2 panels, framed: 35 x 50 inches.
Waysberg’s series have included nude figure studies, subway portraits, and cityscapes. His cityscapes feature bridges, municipal infrastructure, and significant nodal points with an overwhelming level of human activity and movement—a type of urban sublimity. The large-scale watercolor paintings manage to capture and temporarily freeze this sense of civilizational vitality for the viewer. What is also important to note is that these cityscapes are not idealized, but rather clearly convey the grit and unsightly nature of urban structures. For example, in one of his most recent works, QueensBoro Bridge, the faded, elongated drips that run down much of the paper simulate the actual environmental conditions underneath the bridge. The layers of these paintings may be read metaphorically as corresponding to the years of history embedded in the architectural structures the artist selects for his pictorial compositions. The ghostly, ethereal quality that surrounds and emanates from many of these works further contribute to this notion of historical layering in Waysberg’s imagery. Alternatively, the artist’s choice of subject matter speaks to ideas about connection, mobility, engineering, and humanity’s transformation of waterways. As such, Waysberg’s paintings can be seen as meditations on water’s role in shaping human life and experience. Just as water is indispensable to life and the development of urban centers, so too is water a foundational component in watercolor painting. It is the chief element that allows the artist to achieve a certain luminous effect and build up a world of his own on paper.
Norbert Waysberg, New York, 2019. Watercolor on Arches Paper on 2 panels, 54 x 54 inches.
In short, Waysberg sets up an intriguing tension in his work. As a medium, watercolor has historically been associated with delicate, miniature painting. In sharp contrast, he paints on a monumental scale with numerous layers, effectively flouting Western watercolor traditions and academic dictates. This tension in scale and technique allows him to distinguish himself as a contemporary watercolorist, and create bold works that explore the industrial facets of the urban body.
To see Norbert Waysberg’s stunning watercolor cityscapes in person be sure to attend NYA Gallery’s inaugural group exhibition on Thursday, March 7, 2019 from 6-9pm. The opening reception will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Armory Show as well as Tribeca Art & Culture Night. You can RSVP for the opening reception here.