Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Wall is a Path


We will soon learn whether Paul Noble has won this year's Turner Prize.  The landscapes he has been drawing for the last two decades depict Nobson Newtown, a place that emerged into the artist's imagination one day when he was playing with an old program for creating graphic fonts.  The computer alphabet 'was presented as a “keymap” on the screen, providing the eureka moment of the Nobson project — he saw the letters as buildings in a landscape. “The fact that it was called a map and that I was making these letter shapes that were blocky and architectural meant that I leapt into this pictorial, geographical space,” he says. “So I made an actual map, and everything that is on that little map is what I am now working through.”'  Noble goes on to explain in the same interview that the town is partly inspired by Whitley Bay, where he grew up. For example, a drawing called Nob Job Club features a "poached-egg like building" that resembles the town's Spanish City funfair (below). But Nobson is not simply a distorted version of Whitley Bay; indeed it seems unconsciously to have developed with echoes of another city Noble had not yet seen...

As John-Paul Stonard explains in the Gagosian Gallery catalogue Welcome to Nobson, Noble spent some time in Ramallah in 2007.  'The striking resemblances to Nobson that he found there were, in his own words, uncanny.  One might describe the bright, even light of Palestine in relation to the still mood evoked by the silvery graphite finish of the Nobson drawings.  The stony expanses that the drawings so often feature, as in the remarkable A Wall is a Path (2011), appear more like the dusty, rocky wastes of the Negev desert than like pebbles on the coast of Northumberland.  The architecture of Ramallah, too, provided a point of reference.  Nobson is constructed from simple, cubic masses of what might be poured concrete, which in ruins crumbles to reveal rusting bent iron bones.  The large drawing Nobson Central (1998-99) shows an urban area of simple adobe-like structures in ruin, as if caught in the aftershock of an earthquake.  (In fact, as Noble explains in Introduction to Nobson Newtown, this central area was constructed as a ruin, as if to save the bother of those who would inevitably try to destroy it.) When David Bomberg visited Palestine in the 1920s, he produced works that mirror the  distinctive aesthetic of his earlier Vorticist period, in particular the simple architectural forms.  Noble found similar confirmation for his visionary world in Palestine.  Art history is full of such prophecies of style, where the world begins to take on the forms of its own representation.'

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