Nora Sumberg (artist)

Nora Sumberg (artist)
Nora Sumberg
Born 1956
Bairnsdale, Victoria, Australia
Nationality Australian
Field Artist, painter
Training Caulfield Institute of Technology, New York Studio School, Monash University
Works Oil on canvas/linen/panel
Influenced by J. M. W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich, Odilon Redon, Mark Rothko, Ken Whisson

Nora Sumberg (born 1956) is an Australian landscape painter whose work has over time become increasingly lyrical, abstract and atmospheric. Her art is characterized by intense, floating swathes of colour, impressionistic and ambiguous terrain and glowing, multi-directional light sources. Examples of Sumberg's art are held in The National Gallery of Victoria, The Queensland Art Gallery, The Heide Museum of Modern Art and the Smorgan Collection. Sumberg is also the granddaughter of Voldemar Sumberg, the Minister for Social Affairs under the Otto Tief Government in Estonia. Estonian culture is important to Sumberg and she has an artist residency in Tallinn in 2011.



Sumberg completed a Diploma in Fine Arts (painting) at Caulfield Institute of Technology, Chisholm (now Monash University) followed by Postgraduate Studies at the New York Studio School, New York, in 1978. She attained Master of Fine Arts at Monash University in 1996.

Formative years

While studying on an Australia Council Scholarship at the New York Studio School, New York, Sumberg lived in the Hotel Chelsea and became acquainted with and befriended notable musicians and performers such as Blondie, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Johnny Rotten, Richard Hell and filmmaker Luis Bunuel. During this period Sumberg dressed in punk clothing designed by her friend, fashion designer Jenny Bannister, when punk itself as a cultural movement had barely begun to make an impression in America. Her teachers at Caulfield Institute of Technology included Australian artist Gareth Sansom, to whom she was married for 10 years. Australian born singer-songwriter Nick Cave was a fellow student and friend of Sumberg's.

Sumberg's early paintings were figurative and somewhat indebted to pop art and the milieu she was part of, with areas of bold, flat colour and schematic, heavily out-lined drawing, done in enamel on Masonite. Australian artist and critic Robert Rooney wrote of these works: “…The best are boldly painted and ambitiously constructed, often with the aid of fish-eye lens distortion…. Surfaces are smooth, with an occasional drip on a tuxedo in ‘Dijon Waiter’ or a wrinkled skin in ‘Model Lisa No. 6.’ Flat areas and images are outlined in black.”[1]


Sumberg’s shift into landscape included the introduction of architectural elements and props, frequently depicting expressive, labyrinthine mazes or Italian Villa Garden features such as topiary, gazebos, statues and columns. Sumberg's construction of space was unconventional and complex, with multiple or hidden horizons and the cropping and over-lapping of contradictory, slightly tilted perspectives (often the result of separately painted panels joined together), giving perhaps a subjective account of wandering through the many windings and turnings of such gardens. These works followed a residency at the Australia Council’s Besozzo Studio, where Sumberg studied 19thC Italian Villa gardens. These paintings were typically large, multi-panel works. Noted Australian poet and art critic Gary Catalano, wrote: "Too little of the art I see forces my eye to change gear, and I like Sumberg's paintings for just this reason".[2]

Later work saw her largely dispense with the depiction of discrete forms and spatial discontinuities as atmospheric unity and drama assumed a greater importance, particularly the play of light and colouristic intensity. Outlines became less distinct and were subsumed by the overall atmospherics and an increasingly lyrical yet highly considered paint handling. Much of Sumberg's work stems from an emotional, deeply personal response to the Croajingalong National Park, located on the South-East coast of Australia.

Australian artists who have inspired Sumberg include Clarice Beckett and Ken Whisson, the former for her mastery of mood and understatement and the latter for his linear, expressive brushwork. Many recent paintings, such as 'Discombobulation 2', 2004, include abstract elements combined with broadly evoked terrain, foliage and large bodies of water. Poetic and philosophical titles are important to Sumberg. For example: 'Anyone Who Thinks He Understands Nature Should Look Again', 'The Listener', 'Upon a Red Cloud Floating', 'Mostly Awake' and 'Frequencies'.

Jenny Zimmer, reviewing Sumberg's 1990 exhibition 'Purely Painting' at Michael Wardell Gallery, wrote that Sumberg: "transforms sun and cloud and the effects of each on the other into bursts of sensation. Though infused with the nature worship of European romanticism, Sumberg's effects are modern".[3]

'What's the matter'
Year 2004
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 66.5 x 66.5 cm

Sumberg is currently represented by Jenny Port Gallery in Richmond, Victoria, Australia.

Awards and prizes

  • 1978 Visual Arts Board, Australia Council, Peter Brown Memorial Scholarship, New York Studio School, USA
  • 1982 Visual Arts Board, Australia Council, Besozzo Studio
  • 1988 Visual Arts Board, Australia Council, Project Grant
  • 1989 St Kilda City Council Acquisition Drawing Prize, Melbourne
  • 2000 Artist in Residence, Bundanon, The Arthur & Yvonne Boyd Program for the Arts, Shoalhaven, NSW
  • 2003 Artist in Residence, The Tower Studio, Victorian Trades Hall Council, Melbourne
  • 2004 Artist in Residence, St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne
  • 2005 Artist in Residence, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane
  • 2007 Artist in Residence, Red Gate Gallery, Beijing, China



  1. ^ Robert Rooney, The Age, Wednesday 26 November 1980
  2. ^ Gary Catalano, The Age, 6 June 1987
  3. ^ Jenny Zimmer, 'A deep dive from passion to pleasure', The Herald, 23 May 1990
  • Gerald Vaughan, The Melbourne Times, 21 June 1978
  • Robert Rooney, 'Facing the Elements', The Age, 26 Nov 1980
  • Jeffrey Makin, 'Alcosser work is impressive', The Sun, 1980
  • Alan McCulloch, 'Paintings from the West', The Herald, 20 Nov 1980
  • Robert Rooney, The Age, 31 March 1982
  • Robert Miller, 'Pussies Galore', The Herald, 25 March 1982
  • Jeffrey Makin, 'Look at a Tamed Sunburned Country', The Sun, 31 March 1982
  • Robert Miller, 'A Fine Romantic View', The Herald, 28 September 1988
  • Jenny Eisen, Visions and Echoes Ita Magazine Issue 20 Nov 1990
  • 'Nora's Love of Open Spaces', The Launceston Examiner, 13 March 1991
  • Neville Drury, 'Images in Contemporary Australian Painting', Craftsman House, Sydney, 1992
  • 'The Baillieu Myer Collection of the 80s, Vol II', Collections of the Museum of Modern Art at Heide, 1994
  • 'Style the Buzz', The Australian Magazine, 9-10 Aug 1997
  • Phil Brown, 'Dreamland - Nora Sumberg: Poems in Paint', The Brisbane News, issue 411, 28 August 2002
  • Robert Nelson, 'Weather Alert', The Age, A3, pg 6, November 2004

External links

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