Art Notes: Words for Woodland; Alastair Noble’s Art Rises From the Soil

Thursday, June 05, 2014
A curious moose stared into Alastair Noble’s artist’s studio recently while he was working; Noble stared back. Such were the distractions, or inspirations, for Noble, whose artist’s residency, at the Billings-Marsh-Rockefeller National Historic Park in Woodstock, ends this week.

A wandering moose won’t be found in lower Manhattan, where Noble lives and works. But in a serendipitous way, the moose speaks to the kind of installations Noble makes, which are in and of the landscape. They’re not so much imposed on a landscape, but insinuated into it — and the flora and fauna and also the people, can become part of the work, whether they’re conscious of it or not.

“I don’t believe in putting rusty steel sculptures in the landscape,” Noble said in an interview last week at the park. Rather, he examines a landscape for recurring patterns, for outstanding landmarks, and works around and off them, not flattening them out as a map does, but enhancing the natural features.

In conjunction with Noble’s residency at the park, Artistree Gallery in Woodstock is e xhibiting a number of his works on paper, as well as a handmade book called Moment , which puts into book form his project at the park. The show ends Saturday with a closing reception from 6 to 8 p.m. It follows Trek to Taste, guided tours through the park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that feature local foods at points along the trail.

“I’ve done a lot of what I call ‘Mapping Arcadia’ projects. I consider it part of a mapping project. I’m drawing people’s attention to different aspects of the landscape, rather than being a cartographer. I have that notion of topography being a written description of the landscape,” Noble said.

On a perfect spring morning, Noble shows some of the components of his installation for the park. There’s an arrangement of logs on the lawn outside his studio. From a distance they look as if they’re awaiting disposal by the park service, but a closer examination reveals that the top surface of the giant pine and ash logs, which have been partially stripped of their bark and planed smooth, have carved into them fragments of text, some

f rom poets, some from philosophers. Into the lettering Noble has inserted moss.

“ ’Ti s the wind and nothing more,” a line from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven runs across one log. “The lough waters can petrify wood,” another line from a Seamus Heaney poem, has been carved into another log. The words of Nietsche, T.S. Eliot, Wittgenstein, Shakespeare, among others, are also represented. The words aren’t meant to be literal markers of the park’s landscape — see the babbling brook here or a giant pine there — but interpretations and spurs to reflection.

They’re deliberately enigmatic, Noble said, asking the viewer, for example, “What’s the nature of cloudiness? What are you looking at?”

Earlier this week, the logs were transported to 10 different locations evenly spaced through the range of the park. “These are not benches for people to sit on. They’re wayfinders. They’re not guiding you in a certain direction, but giving you a chance to pause and look,” Noble said.

Part of Noble’s intent in creating his installations is that humans, most of whom now live in urban areas, have forgotten “how to engage with the landscape,” he said. We rely, often mistakenly, on GPS rather than learning how to read maps. We hurry by, rather than wend slowly through.

But the passage of time is part of the installations’ power. The moss in the carved letters will grow, and the wood will weather, and eventually disintegrate, and the logs will have blended into the surrounding landscape.

Noble grew up in Scotland, went to art college in England, and moved to the U.S. 30 years ago, where he received an M.F.A. from Rutgers University in New Jersey. He’s lived in New York City since then. His installations have been exhibited, or encountered, throughout the U.S. and the U.K., in Peru, Chile and Bulgaria. His wife, Kathy Bruce, is also a sculptor and installation artist, and they have collaborated on installations in Peru.

In his works on paper at Artistree, Noble takes the same quotes that he uses in his installation at the park, but writes them on paper in pencil. He repeats the same phrase over and over, one on top of the other, so that the final impression is one of hurried, intense production, layers of text that look like mad scribblings from a distance but can be partially deciphered when you stand close.

The paper is Japanese, and depending on how it’s treated (with a chemical solution, or not) and used, it can look like cloth, or paper. Noble then dips the edges of his prints into a bowl of ink so that the paper absorbs and dissipates the color. There’s intention behind the method, but the process itself isn’t premeditated or overly thought out, Noble said. He sits down and doesn’t get up until he’s finished writing, and dipping the paper in ink. The works evolve, seemingly of their own will, and become landscapes of their own.

Of Note

Dartmouth College has announced that the famous Jose Clemente Orozco murals, The Epic of American Civilization , can now be explored digitally on an interactive website. By going to dartmouth.edu/digitalorozco, a researcher, student or plain old curiosity seeker, can explore each of the panels, which were installed between 1932 and 1934 in the reserve corridor of the Baker-Berry Library, now called the Orozco Room.

The images of the discrete panels are paired digitally with the preparatory sketches that Orozco made. The sketches are marvelous: the lines are direct and unfussy, but with a weight that gives them substance. Look at the sketch he made for the face of Cortez, in Panel 11. This is an implacable personality, stern and austere.

Then go to one of his sketches for Panel 13, Anglo-America, to see how skilled he was with depicting a mass of people convening in one place. In the panel there is a group of hatted, faceless businessmen seen from the back, suggesting the grinding mechanics of capitalism; in some ways the sketch is even more evocative, with the feel of men walking in lock-step, unable or unwilling to break free.

Openings and Receptions

To paraphrase Rodgers and Hammerstein, June — and art — is busting out all over.

Cider Hill Art Gallery in Windsor is open for the season. It’s unique among local art galleries in being a place where you can both look at art and look at plants, and buy both. Gary Milek, co-owner of Cider Hill with his wife , Sarah Milek, is showing his paintings in the gallery. He’s been painting in the Upper Valley for 40 years, and uses egg tempera in his finely detailed, closely observed landscape scenes. Hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Friday e vening there will be a reception and wine tasting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. for a new show at the Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction. Artist Judith Vivell will show “Never seen again, an Homage.” New jewelry selections will also be on sale.

As part of White River Junction’s First Friday art walk, Scott Gordon will exhibit steel sculptures, paintings and furniture in a retail space between Revolution and The Tuckerbox Cafe. And ceramics by Madonna — Madonna Gordon, that is — will also be on view. Hours are 5 to 10 p.m.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio , also in White River Junction, has a number of events happening this weekend. First up, the art dealer Jeannot Barr, founder of the New York Print Fair, will be on hand to sell prints Friday evening at the studio from 5 to 8 p.m. On Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m., he is offering verbal appraisals of prints you may have in your collection; at 5 p.m. he will give a talk on how to build a print collection.

There will also be a raffle tomorrow night at 7:45 p.m.: would-be collectors have the chance to enter into a raffle for four prints, with all the proceeds going to toward Two Rivers. Tickets are $5 each, $40 for 10 tickets.

Also featured at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio are works by artist Isabelle O’Connor, who explores the connection between the repetition and replication of printmaking and similar patterns in nature. O’Connor uses numerous printmaking methods that include solar plate, linocut and paper mache.


Aidron Duckworth Art Museum , Meriden : hosts “How Colors Sing,” a show of landscape drawings and abstract paintings by Amherst, Mass., artist Lorna Ritz, and “Exhibition XXIII, Simplified Forms in Color,” a show chosen by two of the museum’s new trustees that features simpler forms and figures from Duckworth’s oeuvre. The Ritz show continues through June 8, and the Duckworth show through Nov. 2.

Art on the River Gallery , Springfield , Vt.: “802: Just Vermont,” a photography show by artists Goldie May and John Sinclair continues through Aug. 19.

The Center for Cartoon Studies T hesis Exhibition, featuring work by the class of 2014, continues in White River Junction through June 22.

Big Town Gallery , Rochester , Vt.: Collage work by Marcus Ratliff t hrough the end of June.

Chandler Gallery , Randolph : The Area Artists Show, featuring work by artists from east-central Vermont, through June 15.

Collective Gallery-Art of Craft , Woodstock : The cooperative gallery in Woodstock is featuring the work of jeweler Joy Raskin, photographer Miranda Hammond and leathersmith Kim Rilleau through the month of June.

Converse Free Library , Lyme : “Nature Observed and Imagined,” a show of drawings and paintings by Carole-Anne Centre continue through July 31.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center , Lebanon : The hospital’s spring arts shows include work by painter Georgina Forbes, digital painter Gloria King Merritt and photographer Hunter Paye, as well as participants in the yearly Employee & Volunteer Art Show.

Great Hall , Springfield : J ack Rowell’s exhibition of photographs of The Hale Street Gang can be seen through Oct. 10. Also exhibiting is Randolph designer and artist Phil Godenschwager.

Hood Museum of Art , Hanover: “The Art of Weapons: Selections from the African Collection,” on view through Dec . 20, and “In Residence: Contemporary Artists at Dartmouth,” on view through July 6.

In conjunction with those exhibitions, the museum is offering the following talks and workshops to the public.

Hood Museum director Michael Taylor will lead a tour of the Hood’s current exhibition “In Residence: Contemporary Artists at Dartmouth” on Saturday afternoon at 2.

There will be a sculpture workshop and walk on Wednesday, June 11, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Visitors will see some of the college’s outdoor sculptures as well as take in the installation of sculptures by former Dartmouth artist-in-residence A llan Houser. Pre-registration is required. Call 603-646-1469 by June 9.

Howe Library , Hanover : “One Word Project: Portraits from Two Communities,” an exhibition of photographs by Hanover High School student Mason McNulty is up in the Ledyard Gallery through June 25.

Kilton Public Library , West Lebanon: “Hmm... it made sense at the time,” works by Brenna Colt, through Aug. 30.

Long River Studios , Lyme: This summer’s art show includes an array of works by local artists Jean Gerber, Betsy Derrick, Stephanie Reininger, Kate Emlen, Jon Olsen, Suzani Arnold, Matthew Greenway, Bruce Murray, Carol Santa Maria and Kathy Swift.

M ain Street Museum , White River Junction : “Girls, Girls, Girls,” recent paintings by Daisy Rockwell, is on view.

Roth Center for Jewish Life , Hanover : “2-D 4-D Fiber Art,” an exhibition of work by Hanover fiber artist Shari Boraz continues through June 15.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site , Cornish : “Ceremonial Concealment,” a show by Elaine Bradford is in the Picture Gallery at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site through July 6.

Tunbridge Library , Tunbridge : ArtSpace features the works of Abel Fillion and Lyal Michel. Fillion makes woodcut prints and Michel, figurative, narrative oil paintings. The show runs through July 25.

Vermont Supreme Court , Montpelier: Judith Vivell, whose work can also be seen at the Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction, has an exhibition of large-scale portraits of birds in the lobby of the Vermont Supreme Court in Montpelier, through June 27.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.