‘An Artist’s Vision — 2000 to 2015” opens Thursday, January 28, with a reception.
The artist is Scott Noel, a Philadelphia-based painter who is included in numerous private, public, and corporate collections, including the Museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Woodmere Museum, and Arkansas Art Center.
In addition to teaching drawing and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy, Noel has also written widely about fellow painters, curates exhibitions, and has received fellowships from the Cite International des Arts, Paris, the Independence Foundation, and the Bader Fund.
In the catalog produced for the exhibition, Noel, born in North Carolina in 1955, shared some thoughts on his work with Rider professor and gallery curator Harry Naar.
“My earliest art classes quickly convinced me painting was the main chance — an overmastering way of responding and thinking,” he says, adding, “I had great teachers in literature, history, and philosophy throughout, and very fine studio art instructors.”
One of those teachers was Barry Schactman, a “figure draftsman,” who, Noel says, “gave willing students a thorough account of the gestural, structural, and spatial energies that unify great draftsmanship across the centuries. By emphasizing gesture, mass, pictorial space, the contrast between sculptural structure, and the contingency of appearance, Schactman forced his students to see figure drawing as a cumulative sign language for sensuality, and a search for equivalents for the emotion awakened by the act of seeing.”
Noel — who studied at Washington University in St. Louis before moving to Philadelphia in 1978 — says that an interest in the human figure over working in minimalism and abstraction in the 1970s was challenging. “Representational art seemed like an exhausted ambition, but our teachers were tolerant of our interest, and there were enough tremors from the larger art world … to suggest figuration was still a living creative discourse. (Schactman and others) were encouraging of all their students as we tried to work through challenging forebears. In my case, these historical figures included Constable, Pissarro, Velazquez, Corinth, Sargent, and, above all, Degas.”
Of his interest, Noel says, “Owing to my temperament and education, I’m attracted to the narratives latent in history and explicit in literature. I loved the biblical dramas in Caravaggio and the myths depicted by Titian and Rubens.”
This seemingly “rich field for invention” also had challenges. “I noticed in most great painting the story was difficult to make out. I could like the painting without knowing the plot. Was the story important only for the forms and structures it generated?” asks Noel.
He then answers his own question. “For me, the first concern is with an experience of seeing, an encounter with a place, a person, and a light. From my beginnings as a painter, the response to something seen set the imagination in motion. The narrative painters I really liked were the ones where you sense the artist frankly deploying actors on a stage and painting the performance; hence, the attachment to theatrical life painters like Caravaggio, Velazquez, David, Degas — even Eakins and Corinth.”
Noel says he never starts a painting with a specific narrative, “but rather with a space, a place or a constellation of elements that strikes me as beautiful or paintable. My psychological preoccupations are pretty simple and compulsive: I always work with a depicted encounter between a small number of people or my painted response to a sitter, portrait or nude.”
He adds that he is also interested in the “fluid boundary” between the physical person and “their resonance with a mythical archetype,” noting that he has “painted a lot of Amazonian women, young gods and goddesses, and bedazzled artists.”
Noel lives in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia with his wife, Jan, and is represented by the Gross McLeaf Gallery in Philadelphia.
His cityscapes and still lifes, he says, claim and hold space to generate color and grandeur all for a desired effect. “Through visual tradition a story becomes a structure while psychology and dramatic emphasis are embodied in color and shape. At the still center of this abstract stagecraft, a specific person or place fulfills a realist’s scruples about fidelity to the visual facts.”
An Artist’s Vision — 2000 to 2015, Rider University, Bart Luedeke Center, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville. Opening reception Thursday, January 28, 5 to 7 p.m. Through Sunday, February 21, Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Artists’ talk Thursday, February 4, 7 p.m. Free. 609-895-5588 or www.rider.edu/artgallery.