“When I speak with another person’s voice, I am a graphic designer. When I speak with my own voice, I am an artist.” — Chris Noel
I’m just walkin' here - Chris Noel
Maybe you know him for his award-winning graphic design work or maybe for his signature use of undiluted process colors in his layouts. But what you might not know is that Chris Noel is starting to make a name for himself as a fine artist.
It all started — at least the revived, fine-art part of his life — in 2002, when Chris was returning from a press inspection in Los Angeles and found himself seated next to a young man going to a music audition in Nashville. While he says he doesn’t think it inspired him to start painting again, the young man’s excitement about the audition clearly awoke a part of Chris that had been dormant since his early twenties. Back then, he would paint using supplies his older brother had given him and, not able to afford expensive canvasses, he used discarded sheet rock and other flat surfaces he could get his hands on.
After that flight back from the West Coast, Chris found himself drawn to painting again. At first, he started with store-bought canvasses, but soon realized that he didn’t want to keep buying them to feed his growing habit. Remembering his early days, he looked for cheaper surfaces on which to lay the fast-drying, thick acrylic paints he favors. As luck would have it, he was restoring an old wooden boat and he found himself with numerous scraps of interestingly-shaped wood that soon became his new canvasses.
Chris said that finding this new, scrap-driven direction was what kept him going in those first couple of years of painting again.
“I’m not sure I would have kept at it, to be honest,” he said. Soon, he began incorporating other found objects — old floppy disks, scraps of cardboard, computer parts — into his work, often allowing the objects themselves to suggest new directions. He called these “debris paintings” and the overall style “Post-Consumer Realism.” In his words, he just “turns it loose and it evolves on his own.”
To find his scraps, Chris combs dumpsters and roadsides, recently finding an old French-style armoire that he hauled back to his house strapped to the top of his car. Disassembled, the various pieces have become expressive backdrops for his latest work.
Got Jobs? - Chris Noel
There are plenty of creatives out there who harbor secret ambitions to be fine artists. The problem is, it’s hard work getting noticed in the art world! You really have to work at it, be willing to accept rejection, and be committed enough to it that you’re willing to work, as Chris does, in a cramped, partially-heated garage much of the time. While this may not qualify as suffering for your art (he still has both of his ears), it certainly tests your commitment.
And committed, Chris is. In the last six years, he has made more than one hundred colorful, deeply layered works that fill his house, garage, and now, galleries. Since 2006, he has had a few gallery shows, was featured in several local publications, and has even made it on television. Drawing on more than 25 years as a communicator, Chris promotes himself using beautifully-crafted promotional books that he makes himself and even has a website devoted to his fine art. He estimates that, at any given moment, he’s got six or more paintings in various stages of completion.
His most recent show, at the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, was a dual show with established sculptor Marcella Morgese. Her mostly monochromatic steel and mixed-media sculptures were interspersed with Chris’ colorful debris paintings to great effect, made all the more dramatic by the gallery’s high white walls. As someone who dabbles in fine art — but who has yet to put in the serious kind of effort Chris has — it was an inspiring sight. It’s got to be some indication that you’ve become a serious artist when people eat hors d’oeurves while looking at your work.
So what are Chris’ next steps as a fine artist? At some point, will painting become his primary pursuit and graphic design fall by the creative wayside?
Industry’s Revenge - Chris Noel
“There’s a spark I get from painting that used to be there for me about design and I’m not really sure if I can come up with anything new, design-wise,” he said. “I’m obsessed with it.”
He’s definitely noticed that when his design life is busy his painting is looser and the opposite is true when things are slow, suggesting how important an outlet painting is for him. And though he remains committed to his painting, he has also branched out into beautiful art boxes — or “Sassy Boxes,” as he calls them, which are colorfully textured cousins to his debris paintings.
Recently, Chris has been instrumental in putting together the Art Directors Club’s upcoming fine art show for area creatives. With the same commitment he puts towards his artwork, he has toiled to put on a serious, first-class exhibition. It’s a shame we’ll only get to see a fraction of what he’s done over the last six years, but Chris is too honest — and modest — to try and skirt the rules limiting each artist to ten entries.
“I don’t feel ownership of my work,” he said. “Because it’s cast-off debris, it really belongs to all of us. How can I claim it as my own? And besides, until someone wants a piece to hang on their wall, it’s still garbage.”
Alas, I wish that extended to the cost of buying one of his paintings. Until I can afford one, I’ll have to wait for him to have the “art garage sale” he keeps talking about.
To see more of Chris’ work, go to www.postconsumerrealism.com.
To find out more about the Designer’s Art Exhibition, visit http://designersartexhibition.eventbrite.com.
“To me, this stuff is still graphic design. There’s really no distinction between design and fine art when you remove the client from the mix. I will always be a perpetual student of color, form and composition. Being a designer is a terminal affliction from which one never recovers. I like to think of my current state as being somewhat reformed.”