LISA NOONIS | BALANCING ACT
January 29 - February 29, 2020
Whitney Modern | Los Gatos, CA
Introduction by Christopher Volpe
It’s tempting to locate Lisa Noonis’ latest body of work between axes of
intimacy and chaos. Tempting but misguided, because the boundary lines never stop moving.
The subjects in Balancing Act may be the traditional ones of landscape, still life, and figure, but the paintings are not representations so much as amalgams of experience, intuition, and idea. Objects and figures interpreted as color and mark take their places in relationship with each other relative to the artist and the viewer. Inner oscillates with “out there.” Balance and disorder remain in flux.
A landscape like Cloud Over Water 7 (page 11) boldly flattens space into simplified and lusciously colored gestural shapes while retaining certain natural qualities of the scene, such as the cloud’s rounded forms and the flashes of blue-green lights and shadow from the water’s depths. The result is a distillation of memory and perception into abstraction at once purposefully unstable and exquisitely balanced, the chaos of experience at equilibrium. Such paintings can only be made intuitively.
The result is work with honesty and vulnerability, visual constructions that can affect the viewer with the intimacy of poetry. In this sense Noonis’ paintings fit Robert Frost’s explanation of “the figure a poem makes” in which he wrote that “it begins in delight and ends in wisdom...in a clarification of life – not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.” Noonis’ paintings are just such “momentary stays” against bedlam, place markers for the incomprehensible nature of life.
In paintings such as On A Clear Day (page 12) or Umbrellas 2 (page 13), color relationships play an outsized role. In the beach day depicted in the former, a vast, ultramarine blue ocean occupies the center of the canvas. Scattered around its edges, humanity celebrates the day in bright bursts of cadmium orange, yellow, and viridian. These colors reappear, as if reflected, in the cloud above, to complete a wreathe of carnival-like color that rings the sea. In the still lifes, warmish ochres and cool, complex blue- and lavender-grays harmonize with subtle warm and cool, clean and dirty whites. And here again the sudden high-intensity hues – cadmiums and chartreuse greens describing a flower, a vessel, a mango – dramatically destabilize the play of carefully modulated, muted harmonies.
The fresh and vigorous feeling in this work is partly a result of how it was made. Intent on freeing her muse from learned habits, Noonis for this series turned away from standard-sized canvases and hung sheets of prepared paper along the length of her studio wall. Within this boundless surface, she applied a range of media, often with her non-dominant hand. Her materials included acrylics applied with big brushes then misted with water and wiped with rags, collaged paper and canvas, including pieces of discarded paintings, and marks etched into wet paint with graphite pencils. Later she selected, mounted, and finished organically self-contained sections into the final paintings.
Noonis’ treatment of the figure magnifies the sense of vulnerability that underlies many of these paintings, in which disorder is welcomed in and allowed to stay. Working off poses familiar from Western art and unfettered by a too-literal focus on form, Noonis inscribes through line, color, and abstraction, a complex fusion of psychology, sexuality, inner life, outer appearance, and foiled cultural expectations for depictions of the female body.
The feeling is indeed that of a balancing act. At stake is personal identity and the impulse to illuminate the flux of psyche and world. Painting for this artist is a way of taming the chaos of everyday experience, but with the kind of order that ultimately invites the chaos back in and holds it, rendering it livable. When we view paintings like those in Balancing Act, we sense and see a way of making a temporary truce with the untidy nature of reality, of neither denying nor accepting fully the gorgeous “messiness” of life. This is art that can help us to live.