Susan Norrie

The Sublime and the Ridiculous, 1985
oil on plywood
49 x 37.2 cm – image 52.2 x 40.2 cm – framed
signed and dated ‘1985/Susan/Norrie’ (lower right) and further signed, dated and inscribed ‘Susan Norrie/1986/Sublime and the/Ridiculous’ (on the reverse)

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The artist

Australian Perspecta 85, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney & Artspace, Sydney (both versions)
Susan Norrie, University Gallery, The University of Melbourne, 15 October -14 November 1986, cat.3 (large version only)
Susan Norrie, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 November 1994 – 2 January 1995, curated by Victoria Lynn, (both versions)

On the image generally
Jo Holder, Australian Perspecta 85, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, illus, p.122
Jo Holder, Susan Norrie, University of Melbourne, exh. cat., 1986, p. 5-6; illus. p.11
Victoria Lynn, Susan Norrie, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, p.62; illus. p.11
Charles Green, Peripheral Vision, Craftmans House, Sydney, 1995, p. 87, illus. p.89

Susan Norrie’s The Sublime and the Ridiculous is in equal parts a homage to and a deconstruction of academic painting, Romanticism and consumer culture. The subjects in the work are all twists on the visual clichés of the Gothic by way of classic horror films: ghoulish faces, widely compared by critics to Frankenstein’s monster; damsels in white, dripping with blood; and religious architecture and iconography.

“Norrie’s The Sublime and the Ridiculous, 1985, was an encyclopedic compendium of visual clichés from Old Master paintings in museums and from B-grade horror movies. Everything was either flawed or a metamorphosed version of something else.” (C Green, op.cit.,p. 87)

Norrie’s inclusion of a cathedral serves the same function as her renderings of Mickey Mouse and other icons of popular culture – each image from high or low culture is an artifice, behind which is a cold or empty reality. Yet, Norrie’s execution of the painting reveals a deep understanding and reverence towards the techniques of the Old Masters, even if she does not believe in their artifice. 

Painted shortly after the death of family members, the work can be seen to reflect the artist’s grief through tormented and wilfully ghoulish images. Norrie, however, has always spoken of her paintings in a more sanguine fashion, as critiques of mass consumer culture using the techniques of academic painting.

This is one of two versions of The Sublime and the Ridiculous executed by Norrie in the same year, the larger of which is in the National Gallery of Australia collection. Both versions of the work were made for Australian Perspecta ’85, with one being exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney and the other at Artspace, Sydney.  The works were reunited in 1994 for a survey exhibition Susan Norrie held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and curated by Victoria Lynn.

  • The Sublime and the Ridiculous

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Susan Norrie's preoccupation with politics and the environment have always informed the subject matter of her work. From the feminist overtones of her earlier series 'Lavished Living', (1983-1984) and 'Objet D'Art' (1988); to her cynical comments on consumerism found in her series 'Tall Tales and True' (1986-1987) and 'Peripherique' (1989); to the more recent video works 'Undertow' (2002) and the geologically and politically volatile view of Indonesia documented in 'Havoc', seen at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

The beauty of all these works, whether it be painting, drawing, installation or video is Norrie's wonderful power over surface texture and material. The tactile quality of her surfaces, are often a contradictory experience to the harsh reality of the stories she tells.

From the moment Norrie began exhibiting in 1982, her work has been highly regarded for being both conceptually and materially advanced. It was the winning of the first Moet & Chandon prize for an artist under 35 that was a pivotal point in her career, and her work has been exhibited in many international and national surveys of contemporary art. Norrie's work has been written on extensively and is held in all state and most regional gallery collections of Australia.