Irving Norman was transformed by his experience resisting fascism during the Spanish Civil War, and turned to art as a way to express the atrocities he witnessed. After traveling to Mexico to view the works of artists such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, the muralists’ profound influence on him is evident in the grand scale of his works. But Norman was also known for his attention to detail, and to the human condition, which derived from his study and appreciation of the Social Realists and Surrealists of the day.
The Palace (1959) shows a giant structure built upon the mangled bodies of the masses, to house just one corpulent being. From a distance, the palace appears to be a thing of beauty, with its rich colors and tapestries, but Norman’s details show the underlying ugliness. Corpses are impaled on the battlements, and hundreds of identical, emaciated figures are crammed into prisons that make up the foundation of this edifice. Such scenes depicting poverty, capitalism, and the many ways in which society traps the many for the benefit of the few are running themes throughout all of Norman’s works. The messages in his art were also cornerstones by which he lived, eschewing the “commercially viable” artistic trends and even private patronage. He sought widespread, public viewership in the hope that he might inspire some to reconsider their own roles within society’s power structure. This painting has been exhibited at the Crocker Art Museum, the Pasadena Museum of California Art, the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, the Laguna Art Museum, and the Katzen Arts Center.