Returning for a longer look at Paul Noble’s current exhibition, I realise that Nobson is more prominent in the show than I’d understood. Also, that my sense that deserts had bloomed is probably more revealing of my baseline bounce into every morning as a blind optimist than the actuality! That is; yes there are trees, plants and they emerge from the desert but that doesn’t quite conjugate the verb ‘to bloom’. Plus, my eyes lied to me in identifying clusters of rocks -which I know peculiarly well, given their relationship to images in In Ramallah, Running- as bushes, trees, verdancy!
Again, that sickening/delusional optimism/positivity; it’s rather nice to be wrong!
A more exact survey opens on a series of small drawings spelling out Welcome to Nobson, which lead on to Gallery 1 with its entrance half blocked by a ‘curtain’ of heavy ‘beads’ in a nice almost subliminal touch. ‘Ouch’, they say; ‘fool!’ This room is dominated by huge drawings and those fabulous embracing poops [one is called 'Couple'] which are modelled on gate-plinths in one corner of the multi-panelled Welcome to Nobson drawing that reaches to the ceiling in this tall room, details well beyond my eye sight.
Welcome… itself, is a stunning alt. universe with layer after layer of suggestion and manipulation of view. There is extraordinary detail beyond the pencilled precision of it all, with hints, sketches at and rehearsals of other drawings in the same room. Of course, it also works the other way around. In the mural-drawing there is a muted version of Cathedral which comes into sharp focus on the opposite wall; a really great piece of Paul’s work. Other single drawings elaborate or experiment with elements in this take on Nobson; each of which is startling in its sheer beauty, a quality that the mural plays with, subverts, disdains, and yet also, as it were, does…
A+B+C is an elaboration in this way; a pair of starkly lit ladders and slides, one Carsten Holleresque in its potential thrill, the other a Dignitas-like form of suicide. For me the strongest drawings here are This is the Way and Family is Infinity [or, Hard Labour], stand-alones which are continuous with the Nobson mural or in some way part of it. The former is the one I know well but misidentified on opening night, looking awry while someone stood transfixed before it -seeing flora where only stones stack. But it’s a very strong image, a ['circular'] path worn in a stony desert, like those Peruvian markings that were once ascribed to Martians, discovered on Mars itself!
Family… is a very sober piece of work, an exquisite wrestle with enigmatic and competing demands upon the self. Paul’s drawing resonates with ambivalence both intellectual and visual in perhaps the single most generative piece here -albeit abysmally so. Cathedral is a lovely Nobelesque touch, in which a drawing is executed with extraordinary precision, while undertaking a debunking that reminds you, or me at least- of positive human gestures.
Stacks of stones are still made as wishes, totems, memorials -I immediately think of stones stacked precariously, near Koteshwar on the Kori Creek at India and Hinduism’s most western extent or of Walter Benjamin’s ‘memorial’ at Port Bou [the boulder not the sculpture], and so on- to this day across the globe and cultures. At their best they are simple gestures, embodied thoughts, no more nor less. Human culture has turned those urges into the bureaucratic absurdities of formal religions with all their sanctimony and human faults beginning with vulgarity and vanity… Is Noble simply critiquing or celebrating? What and what?
Font, the drawing I stole a picture of on opening night but only shared a slither of, was nowhere to be seen/found in the galleries today. Perhaps it was the cause of my memory greening more drawings than existed, because it certainly bore plant life!
So to Gallery 2 where AH resides, alongwith a ceramic sculpture and a little Wooden Bell made from Ziricote wood [tough, Ebony-like, resonant] and hazelnuts which have been carved with faces… The latter’s presence is curious and a more natural-seeming move into sculptural form than the larger piece.
AH, like many of the drawings here, is something you need to stand before to see properly and understand. In this instance [as with the spelling out of the show's title] the letters stand before a drawn brick wall which is made up of a whole world of cartoonery… While I love the work and play in evidence here, I am not yet sure what I think of it as art, simply because the the two elements work in markedly different ways, complex, precise and visually sophisticated, and then ‘simple’, busy, and more or less quoting from another visual world or context. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but in practice, as I say, I’m unsure…
AH by Paul Noble 2010 [with apologies for poor quality of snatched images. Click on close up to expand]
So though ambivalence is an obvious hope or expectation generated by the work, for myself the work itself is so extraordinary that ambivalence is only one of its very minor chords. Whatever the intention, this exhibition contains human exception in works that possess manifest preciousness which, taken together, generate wonderment. It is the only proper response even if the ‘bead’ curtain guarantees a nice smirk on the way in and the way out. Ever felt like you’ve been cheated? Yes! -but not today!
Paul Noble at Gagosian has a page with further links here.
There is a now full page of work in the show -including AH and Cathedral- here.
UPDATE: Gagosian keep updating their pages, so if my renewed links don’t won’t go to the artist’s page here.