Tom Noble, a native of Taos, grew up among the landscapes he paints. He captures the essence of the Mexican and New Mexican countryside in vivid and expressionistic watercolors, and his pieces have an energy gained from the simple, gestural application of paint.
Born in Taos in 1941, Noble, a thirdgeneration New Mexican, was educated at The University of New Mexico’s College of Fine Arts, the Instituto Allende in Mexico, and Colorado Mountain College. At UNM Noble studied under Sam Smith, from whom he learned about watercolor painting.
Noble may be best known for his watercolors, but he is also a printmaker who once ran his own lithography business. He learned about lithography while studying at Colorado Mountain College. Noble is still involved in print-making, turning his landscape paintings into giclée prints.
Noble began exhibiting his art locally in the late 1960s and, later, nationally. His work can be seen at Wilder Nightingale Fine Arts Gallery in Taos and at Ventana Fine Art in Santa Fe.
The imagery in Noble’s paintings is characteristic of Northern New Mexico: rustic homes that dot the rural landscape, churches, and old Spanish missions. Noble does not paint in colors typically associated with the features of the landscape or the structures that are found in them. His churches may be painted in hues of vibrant blue, while small casitas glow in rich magenta under a starry night. His palette is at times warm and inviting; at others, fiery and passionate. His works have an illustrative, storybook quality, as though they are backdrops for tales. But Noble’s paintings are not always calm. In some, the clouds are roiling purple and red, trees twisting in the wind, with the darkening sky suggesting a storm. Yet there is always a luminous effect — brightness behind the overcast skies.
“My paintings are of an imaginary world, a pre-industrial Arcadia, a time when Northern New Mexico was nothing but rural villages, usually with a church in the center,” Noble says in his artist’s statement. Such places still exist in the hills and valleys of Northern New Mexico. Noble evokes them and taps into the spirit of the place.
Noble’s approach is nontraditional: mixing watercolors with acrylics and sometimes with glitter to heighten atmospheric effects and dabbing his fingers into the paint to dribble on his surfaces. There is a raw intensity to some of his paintings. Little detail or fine brush work is needed to convey the idea of a stand of trees or a field of flowers. Watercolor paintings that are formed like these, under a practiced hand, have a feeling of immediacy that pulls the viewer in. With skies ablaze with orange and clouds that seem to trace the gently rolling hills on the horizon, Nobles’ paintings offer a celebratory vision of the out-of-doors.
Tom Noble: Sheep Are in the Meadow, 2001, watercolor and gold leaf on ragboard, 20 x 20 inches