An artist’s studio, it has been said, is half science laboratory and half Aladdin’s cave.
I was reminded of this when I visited the studio of Chicago artist Connie Noyes recently, on the third floor of a grand brick factory building that once manufactured Ford Model Ts. As soon as the steel doors swung open, Noyes guided me on a pathway that led between old and new paintings concealed in bubble-wrap and leaning against walls, tables laden with the recycled and cast-off materials that she uses in her current work, and works in progress standing against other walls, reclining on other tables, or lying on the floor, amid pools of wet and dried resin that she pours in cascades over her materials.
We talked a lot about process. Whether in a series of works incorporating enlarged digital photos, pigment, resin, and hilariously gaudy frames, or in a piece that cocoons hundreds of peanut shells in a bright gold layer, Noyes spoke about finding her way by working with the materials. The size and dimensions of the work, the particular tone and texture that results, even the title, aren’t fixed until the end. I asked if she used recycled materials (packing peanuts, plastic pens, marshmallows (well, maybe they were fresh rather than recycled)) because of environmental concerns, but she said it came more from psychological motives. She mentioned the disparity between our inner life and the image we project to others, a point which I take to mean that she is working with a disparity between the cast-off nature of her materials, and the brilliantly shiny, glossy, alluring surface that she arrives at when she’s done.
This way of working wasn’t particularly helped by going to grad school at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her experience there made her feel torn down by the teachers’ advice, and nonplussed by their heavily theoretical bias. Noyes’ work is clearly about texture, and matter, and a visual experience so rich that you almost want to eat her painting/sculptures. I call them sculptures because even though the materials lie on panels, and they hang on the wall rather than being freestanding, you experience them as objects in space, in your space—the space of your visual field, flooded by a torrent of outrageous colours, and occasionally overtopped by their physical presence.
And what was the first piece of art she ever remembers making? When she was six years old, there was a Child Craft encyclopedia, its pages filled with pictures by lots of famous artists, and she drew a bunch of drawings around the edges of a page that contained images from Picasso’s paintings.
That’s another thing that an artist’s studio resembles: a child’s art class. Not the kind where the teacher scolds you for getting your hands dirty (as happened to Noyes’ own daughter once), but where you yourself are your own teacher, and you have permission to make the biggest mess you want, to throw stuff around and work through the failures until something good comes out of it.
Connie Noyes is having an Open Studio on Friday, October 18, 2013, at 6pm, 629 W Cermak, Chicago. Her work can also be seen in a group show at the Zhou B Arts Center, 1029 W 35th Street, Chicago, opening November 15th.