BY NOAH BECKER February, 2019
You were raised by hippie parents. Can you tell me how that upbringing had an influence on your paintings?
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and the lush, mossy, temperate rainforest was the backyard in which I entertained myself. We would spot deer, bear, coyotes, and eagles on the regular. Without electronic devices or many toys to play with my sister and I found ourselves wildly intrigued by foliage and the life that enveloped the property. Each of my parents played musical instruments and made things with their hands – it wasn’t a hyper studious or intellectual household and we put value on nature and entertaining yourself. It was inconceivable that you would complain about being bored. Saying “I’m bored” was met with the accusation that I was a boring child if I couldn’t find something to do or make. And so we didn’t beg for toys. We built toys and we imagined fantasy worlds in which to play. As an artist I now have the means to render in oil and canvas those worlds I imagined in my childhood.
When you think about making a new painting is it intuitive or do you plan it out?
For small works I can just square up to the canvas, no idea in mind, start painting, and – behold – something will just appear. But for the vast majority of my works, and certainly the largescale works, there is about a week of sketching/planning before paint hits canvas. For me it's been important to remain sustainable and to not burn out by biting off more than I can chew. Artistic frustration has debilitating consequences, panic is a demon that is all too easy to feed when not enough planning has taken place beforehand. What I like to do is allow intuition to roam free within the small sections of a large work. Little by little it all comes together into a cohesive whole.
When you think about using color is it from your imagination or are there art historical references that inspire you?
I wish I used more color. That may surprise people as my works involve pretty wild palettes. But if there is anything that inspires me it's the unapologetically rainbow palette of a coral reef or a tropical rainforest. Nature isn’t motivated by what colors are “in” next Spring. Less is not more in nature. Nature loves a color party and I pay homage to that Master of Color most of all. In my upcoming collection of night scenes I found myself taking a lot of cues from Henri Rousseau’s luminous and alluring moonlit jungles.
If you could be any historical figure in any profession who would you be?
Georgia O’Keeffe is a figure that greatly inspires me. It’s not based on her oeuvre so much but rather the strength she imbued both as an independent woman and artist in leaving New York for New Mexico. A tour through her homestead last year has dared me to me make the decision to move to the same town of Abiquiu, where I will build a studio and small adobe home. I am ready to replace the horns and sirens of New York for the starkness and vastness of the enchanting Southwest. She was right about that place, it is magical, and I know it will help me hear my inner self and blossom fearlessly as an artist.
Is painting fun for you, relaxing or is it difficult work? What part of the process of making art is most rewarding to you?
Painting can feel like you're in a euphoric trance, or even like a relaxing massage. I’m not gonna lie about how fun oil finger painting really is. Can you just imagine how therapeutic it would be to play with multi colored butter in a childlike way for work? However, an hour later the mood can shift to despair, self-loathing, and an aching back all within the same painting. Balancing those energies is difficult work, but truly my favorite part of the process is prior to paint, and takes place with pen and paper. Bursts come late at night when I’m free to sketch out a frantic visual shorthand in my journal of painting ideas.
The most rewarding part for me has been the relationship I’ve developed with my collectors and fans. I’m moved when reading comments on Facebook or Instagram where people pour their hearts out about how the painting(s) make them feel or how one helped them through a very hard time. I've received emails where people report taking up finger painting to "color their grief away" after the loss of a child. The messages are profoundly affecting and keep me motivated to paint with joy on a completely different level.
The situations that happen in your paintings are interesting dream-like situations. Some aspects of your paintings appear almost like ghosts or apparitions but all immersed in color. Would you describe your work as narrative?
Yes, I would describe my work as narrative, especially the new collection for my show “Ritual in Pairing” at Filo Sofi Arts coming up in May 2019. I’m increasingly into world-building. If my older works were short vignettes, then the newer work features at length spectacles. There’s more thematic cohesion across the paintings in this show. The idea that we present ourselves as a creation, something fantastic that is open to others, is persistent in my approach. We are all working to create ourselves and we end up with a beautiful collage of past and present experiences. Hopefully we can get others to see and accept that beauty. This show really celebrates rituals of peacocking displays designed to solicit acceptance in nature. I want to put people in touch with nature’s flamboyant artistic visual energy. So the story I’m telling now is definitely one about environmentalism. Whatever identity we create needs to fit better with the natural world than what has come before. Too much contemporary environmentalism is doom and gloom. I want to be one of the artists that paints a picture of our bright future relationship with Earth's flora and fauna.
If I compared you to another artist, I would say that certain works by Van Gogh come to mind. How do you think about using color?
Van Gogh as a phenomenon is truly incredible, thank you for the comparison. When I go to museums I love watching people respond to his works, they're literally in trance when they see his use of line and color. The Post Impressionists were inventors, their use of color was surreal. Painters like Van Gogh are vibing with that instinct we had as children to be mesmerized by this other-dimensional style of super color. That visceral response to an artwork, especially the gasp for air a viewer might enjoy, is to me the highest achievement in this visual craft. Nature is no stranger to the excesses of color, just look at the peacock or the the octopus. Human beings are born with a fascination for other-worldly palettes, as an artist I call myself an Instinctualist painter. Children are born Instinctualists as seen in their distinct taste for color. I want to help adults return to their uncompromised childhood instincts, revel in the creativity of hypercolor, and fall back in love with the possibility of imagined worlds!
Are you trained or mostly self-taught?
I think of myself as mostly self-taught. In 2006 I earned a BFA in Painting, and also studied art in Florence. Finger Painting 101 certainly wasn’t a course taught in art school, but after graduation I moved to Taiwan to take a year off and just paint before entering the workforce. I was very lucky in Taiwan, because I both stumbled upon finger painting could afford to practise the new technique 7 days a week. I taught myself through much trial and error and in many ways used social media as my virtual crit circle to gain feedback. My BFA gave me a base of fundamentals, but it takes daily painting and full time practice to make the big leaps. By 2010 I had managed to quit my day job and focus strictly on painting. For the past decade my brain’s been given permission to focus strictly on developing an art form which had not previously been treated as fine art. In an effort to remain nimble, I’ve taken lessons from masters skilled in painting live models to enhance my mixing of pigments for the subtleties of skin tones. These sharpened skills are reflected in my new body of portraiture.
What is the most recent movie or novel that might have influenced your painting? Or do you find inspiration in other areas of life?
I have been listening to the same author, Paul Selig, over and over for the past 3 years. The core message of his channeled novels is to listen to your own instincts and unlearn what the adult world has forced down your throat as "Real". These books are helping me learn how to recognize when a thought I hear in my head is actually based in fear rather than love. Selig’s texts continue to influence my art because now, instead of obsessively tracking what's currently happening in the art world and worrying about how it will be perceived by other adults, I'm going inward, listening to Iris' 10-year-old-self, and trusting that compositions designed in love and joy will have more legs decades to come. My aim is to be one of the perennial artists of history, and I think that requires trusting my own childhood beliefs.
What is next for you?
The two and a half months leading up this show has me totally immersed in making sure that my journaled ideas can manifest themselves into 3D sculpture and 2D paintings. The upcoming show is the first time I’ve had 9 months to build a collection for a solo show. That time has given me the opportunity to grow as an artist, and has led me into fashion construction based on my earlier paintings, experiments in sculpture, and even performance art. All of which will be unveiled during the run of the show. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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