If you visit the Douglas Elliman offices in the historic building at 111 Fifth Avenue, you’ll notice a juxtaposition between the original mosaic tile flooring and the bright, colorful, contemporary art on the walls. What you won’t know is that the artist who created these works is also Douglas Elliman agent C. Michael Norton.
As the saying goes, “Art imitates life,” and for C. Michael Norton there is truth to this sentiment. To put himself through art school in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Norton worked in home construction. This gave him valuable knowledge about structural aspects of a home as well as experience with a plaster knife—both of which have contributed to his success as an artist and real estate agent.
“I needed to find a way to make a living that would still let me be an artist,” Norton says, which led him to real estate in 1995-96. His wife, also an artist, took her real estate exam and he thought he should do the same. Of his dual careers, Norton says, “I wouldn’t be able to have one without the other.”
Represented by UNIX Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, Norton has exhibited his work around the world from California to China. Norton’s primary studio is in Tribeca, Manhattan, but he has a second studio at his home in New Kingston, New York. These two locations inspire his artwork in different ways. The more colorful pieces are inspired by nature upstate, and in Manhattan he’s inspired by the “density of urban congestion.”
Since he switched his medium from sculpture and metal casting to painting, which is more transportable, Norton is able to start a work in one studio and finish it in the other. “It’s about traveling, it’s about time, it’s how you move through space, both consciously and unconsciously,” Norton says. “So much of my work is about how the unconscious reacts to any given moment.”
Achieving Success in Art and Real Estate
You’ll notice a multi-layered dimension to the paintings displayed at 111 Fifth Avenue. Norton’s process sometimes involves taking photographs of previous paintings, combining and reprinting them on one canvas, then adding sculptural, molded elements on top using mud knives, bearing similarities to the use of plaster when building homes.
Norton describes his two careers as being harmonious. “It’s always gone hand-in-hand,” he says. “I would have always been an artist, but I wouldn’t have been able to get to this level and stay at this level without having real estate, too.”
Office as a Gallery
C. Michael Norton is the first artist selected to showcase his work at Douglas Elliman’s 111 Fifth Avenue office. There are plans to rotate the artwork every six months. This will showcase a new artist and gallery, accompanied by events to bring people in to see the artwork, including those with real estate experts offering their tips. When asked how it feels to be the first artist exhibited at 111 Fifth Avenue, Norton replied, “I’m flattered and humbled.”