by Joce Blake
Behind every painting or piece of art, there is a creative individual that gave their entire soul to make you feel connected to the work of art. As a young girl, Adri Norris had no idea that she would blossom into a startlingly impressive artist. When meeting this powerful woman of Denver, you can sense her intense compassion.
Instantly, you can tell that she seeks compassion. She said, “There is a lot in this world to be angry about, but I find that if I communicate with compassion, it is easier to be heard. That is where my art comes from. I could rail on about the injustices against women and people of color, but I choose instead to hold up examples of people who overcame those injustices in order to pursue their own goals and to improve the world around them.” The unique thing about this female artist is her tenacity through diversity.
The defining moment of Norris’ career was the moment she agreed to do a show about women in history. For her, taking the time to look deeply into the lives of these women and the times in which they lived has changed the way she views the world. “I see patterns of thought and behavior and recognize the need for context. It has relieved me of much of my judgment while encouraging me to question my own actions and those of the people around me,” Norris explained.
For years, people have told Adri that she should find a career with more stability but like the renegade she is, she persevered. Norris shares this characteristic with many of the women she has depicted in her revolutionary collection entitled, Women Behaving Badly. The aim of this collection is to highlight the indispensable contributions made by women from various realms like activism, athletics, arts, science, and politics. As for the title, Norris said, “I wanted a provocative title for my series to showcase women who stepped outside of their pre-prescribed roles to do meaningful work. The title grabs you and makes you want to learn more, even if it's not what you originally thought you'd learn,” Norris said.
Adri Norris was born in Barbados and her family moved to New York shortly after. She also spent some of her childhood in New Mexico. Falling in love with traveling the world, she decided to study abroad in Italy and then made the brave decision to join the Marine Corps. No matter where she was in the world, one thing remained constant: her sketchbook.
Norris told us, “When I was seven years old, I announced that I would be an artist when I grew up after flipping through a book containing the work of Leonardo da Vinci. That was the first time I realized that you could get famous as an artist.” She went on to say, “Growing up, I became fascinated by all the ways you could put marks on some surfaces and how you could manipulate other surfaces. I became a maker. It is something I can't not do.”
Norris created Afro Triangle to show the world her art. Creating Afro Triangle was something Norris knew she had to do. Each and every creation is from Norris; from the fine art to the clothing. “I started this company back in 2009 with a simple Facebook page to showcase my work,” Norris wrote on her website. The Facebook page has become an amazing presence on multiple social media platforms, art shows and festivals around the Mile High City.
Moving to Denver seemed like the right choice for the artist. Norris shares, “I had already applied to the Art Institute Online when I was sent on my second deployment to the Middle East with the Marines. By the time I returned, I had only six months left on my contract, so it made sense to wait and go to school in person. The Colorado school has a program I was interested in called, Illustration and Design. Although this was canceled before I got to Denver, I opted to switch to Media Arts and Animation and follow through with the original plan. I figured that Animation would be Illustration-plus. I love the sense of life I am able to bring to my paintings.”
For centuries women painters have been ignored by art historians. We are familiar with names like Leonardo da Vinci, Turner, and Monet but are not aware of names like Artemisia Gentileschi or Rosa Bonheur. Norris shared some of the trials and triumphs she has experienced as a black female artist. One of her biggest challenges came from doing commercial artwork for the corporate sector.
Norris shared, “The office was always freezing and I found that there was this weird split between how I was treated and how I was compensated. My work was highly praised, but my paycheck was tiny.” According to the National Center for Education Statistics, black women are now the most educated group in America. The more shocking statistic is that they are grossly underpaid across many platforms. With this in mind, Norris had to make a decision that ultimately changed her life. “When I left, I had to learn how to be an entrepreneur, something they didn't teach in art school. Over the past two years, I feel like I am finally seeing my efforts pay off,” Norris said.
That’s why “Women Behaving Badly” is so important. This series, according to the artist, has brought more meaning to her life than any of her creations. Of all of her work, she feels that this series is truly inspirational and made her feel complete. Norris exclaimed, “I started to tell the stories of women from all races, nationalities, and walks of life through my series “Women Behaving Badly.” I want people to see themselves in those stories, to consider how they may be like those women and think differently about women in general. Originally, I aimed these stories and this art at women and girls. I wanted to inspire them to be more than they thought they could be. Now, I see that these pieces can become a vehicle to combat an ideology that puts people into a box with an incorrect label in order to stop them from being their full selves.”
From Dolores Huerta, a Latina civil rights activist to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in the House of Representatives, Norris has found a way to depict these powerful women in the most beautiful way. Combining watercolor paintings with old photos and newspaper clippings, she creates artwork that is unmatched. In creating these masterpieces, Norris wanted to focus on three questions: Who was she? What did she do? Why does that matter? Norris said, “I started learning about women who invented things I use every day or who enacted policies which benefit me and I asked myself, why have I never heard of them before?" Often times the historical achievements of women are not documented and shared with the world. Norris has championed the role of showing recognition to those powerful women who have been overlooked and neglected.
Watercolor is a unique form of painting as it allows for glow and transparency in a brilliant light. Norris told us, “ I am the kind of person who, if you tell me something is hard, I have to try it. Most people consider watercolor to be a difficult medium but I love that it has a mind of its own. It forces me to adapt to the changes I see as I put color down.” She goes on to say, “That said, it is also more forgiving than most people think. I routinely go back and pull out pigment to create highlights in my paintings. And because it is a transparent medium, there is this luminosity in my paintings that I have not achieved in other media.”
With the current climate of our country, this powerful woman feels our world is not a safe climate for her and her wife. Being a black, queer woman and a part of a mixed race couple is frightening. However, if she could tell her 10-year-old self something, she would tell her, “Keep doing what you’re doing because it will all come together someday.”