Pic­tur­ing Arcadia

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Tom Noble — Michael Abatemarco

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

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