Joseph Norris

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Joseph Norris

1925 - 1996

Joseph Norris was a folk artist known for his idealized visions of the life and landscape of Lower Prospect, Nova Scotia in paintings characterized by vivid colours and a strong sense of design. His work did not adhere to the traditional rules of perspective and drawing and was not influenced by art history or art theory, but rather by images from television. During his early years he also made models of villages, boats and lighthouses using found materials.

Norris grew up in stark poverty during the Great Depression - one of nine children, his father died in 1934. Plagued by illness and with a need to help support his mother through his earnings from fishing, Norris left school after grade four. His life became defined by hard work and a love of his home. Though he briefly took up painting at the age of 15 during a bout of pleurisy, it was not until the age of 49, after suffering a heart attack, that Norris turned to painting seriously.

It is estimated that Norris painted around two thousand artworks. His paintings began to gain notice not long after he began displaying them on the outside of his shed, and his works were first shown at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto. In 1976, thirteen of his paintings were included in the Folk Art of Nova Scotia exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. His paintings are now in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. In 1978, Norris had another pivotal exhibition at Dalhousie Art Gallery, Joe Norris: Paintings and Furniture, during which many works were acquired by important public and private collections. By the 1980s, Norris had gained success and popularity and was included in the National Museum of Manís exhibition From the Heart, which toured Canada, and he was featured in the CBC documentary film of the same name.