Connie Noyes

Connie Noyes is a Chicago based, Professional Contemporary Visual Artist who has been making art for 30 years. Represented by Art Depot, Innsbruck, Austria and the SFMOMA Artists Gallery in San Francisco. Connies website is at http://www.connienoyes.com

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Interests you have other than art?

I have danced my entire life and I think as a result of this everything I experience is through my body. I am very physical and consequently my art is very physical. There is a visceral experience, often for the viewer, when they see my work in person. It is hard to get this from the internet or digital images, so this is important to mention.

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What are the main medium/s you work in…

I consider myself a painter, though I use many different materials in my work. My MFA is in photography but I never actually thought of myself as a photographer. The photographic image was the skeleton of my work. I had a hard time keeping my hands off the image. I had to touch it, to manipulate it, paint on it, erase parts and then draw back into it.

My photographs looked like paintings, and now as a painter people tell me I paint with a photographer’s eye. I think what they mean by this is that I work with the edges of the frame/canvas. This is where tension and poetry are created.


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Artist’s statement…

This is a statement from my latest body of work Human Steps. It is an ongoing series I have been working on for a year and a half. There are paintings and digital images. Eventually there will be video components and an installation as well.

HUMAN: adjective, have, or relating, to characteristics of people. STEPS: noun, plural, the act of putting one foot in front of the other.

HUMAN STEPS is a dialog, which references the many disparate elements encountered in daily urban life – a metaphor for the way in which dark affects light and vice versa, how the sweet can become sickly if overdone and how close proximity to millions of people, diverse cultures and visual images can both inspire and overwhelm. It is a metaphor for tight quarters, pleasant or not so pleasant meetings and vibrant energy of the city in contrast to shadowy and emotionally difficult places.

For HUMAN STEPS, I use what most people consider garbage as a jumping off place in the work. The materials at one point might have been utilitarian, but were never considered beautiful. The hard, shiny, plastic surfaces often synonymous to commercial objects, would never pass inspection as such. Dirt falls onto the canvases, scratches, cracks, marks occur and there are no straight lines, only the illusion of such. Through the act of turning detritus into “works of art”, or elevating the prestige of garbage, I aim to question the status quo of beauty, worthiness and usability. 2009

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Your art education was…? I have a Degree in Photography from a small liberal arts college in Virginia, Virginia Intermont College, A MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a MA in Psychology and Art Therapy from Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California.

I also took a few painting classes from Larry Robinson who teaches at UC Berkeley in California when I decided to switch mediums in 1998. Studying psychology and working as a therapist for 9 years changed my life and the way I think about my art practice. Taking painting classes with Larry, changed the trajectory of my career.

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Tell us about your study and the MFA…

I was accepted into the graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at age 23. It was the only school I wanted to attend, though I had been accepted into two other programs. The Art Institute at the time had the reputation of having one of the best graduate art programs in the country. Plus I had been living in a very small town in the mountains of Virginia, teaching part-time at the college I attended as an undergraduate.

I drove to Chicago from this small town singing Hot Child in the City hoping the words could ease my nervousness and boost my confidence. I was shy, a bit intimidated and a giant sponge seeking food and knowledge. I took and absorbed what I was told about my work and tried to make it fit together in my psyche. I was making what I was told was BOLD work. To me it was simply romantic and stemmed from my own personal history of romantic encounters The response was never indifferent. Professors, other students and critics either loved or hated my work. The extremes intrigued me.

In critiques, the players would argue amongst themselves, passionately describing their response to my photographs. I learned how to play the game and how to get the response from my audience I wanted. In the process of absorbing others ideas -theoretical, intellectual or emotional, I forgot the importance of doing the work for myself.

Though, I never had doubts about getting my MFA, it wasn’t until much later when I could really appreciate what I got from going to school there. I was so prolific and the work I did has been the foundation for all work to come. But with that said, I don’t think I took advantage of the program the way I would have had I been a bit more mature. I received my MFA in 1980 in photography.

If you started painting in 1998 what did you do in the years previous?

I stayed in Chicago and worked and exhibited for two years after school. I don’t think I was prepared for life after graduate school. I was working as a waitress and bartender at night so I could work in my studio during the day. But, then something happened and the social aspects of the bar life and alcohol consumed me. I moved to LA, back to Chicago then back home to Washington where I finally hit bottom…and I thank God it stopped there. I was able to get sober and back in my body! I was married and my daughter was born on Xmas day in ’86.

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In 1988, when my daughter was less than two years old sitting in her high chair, I watched as she bit the tips off non-toxic markers. The color oozed out of her mouth onto the paper. She spit, drew, rubbed, rolled in the gooey mess. She was covered in color. She didn’t care what any one thought of her drawing. She was genuinely excited by her experience. It was in this moment, in the kitchen with my tiny daughter, I remembered again why I had wanted to be an artist. She and I began playing with art materials together. I learned so much about process from her.

I began working daily, very consciously being kind to the fragile artist child felled for the previous six years. Like my daughter, I suddenly didn’t care what anyone thought of what I was doing. In fact I never had to show anyone. I was just playing. I decided that the process would be my inspiration – one thing leading to another naturally. A year later, I was doing work that felt honest and stood on its own – photographing garbage, old window shades, cardboard, hardware, tape etc., manipulating the images in the darkroom and painting, drawing back into them. I began to exhibit the work in juried shows was awarded a couple of prizes. Soon after, in1990, had a solo exhibit in Alexandria Virginia at the Torpedo Factory. At the suggestion of a fellow artist, I spent every cent I had on having the work professionally framed. I was proud.

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In April 1992, I was awarded an exhibit at Touchstone Gallery in Washington DC. I continued to work with photographic images. The imagery depicted the fragility of relationships – things are rarely what they are perceived to be. The black rose was a metaphor for beauty and the passing of time with sexual overtones. Since I had spent all of my money framing the last show, I used discarded materials to frame and display the work. The acrylic sheets, mounted on the frames with screws purposely didn’t fit. They swung from side to side as people passed. I tacked some of the work directly onto the wall and imposed makeshift frames around the large pieced together photographs.

In May 1992 I moved from Alexandria Virginia to San Francisco, due to my husbands employer. I had not yet figured out how to make a living with my art. Part of me didn’t even want to try. I was more interested in practical ways I could support my children and myself. I know now it was fear that held me back.

Since undergraduate school at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia, I had significant interest in psychology. Almost had a double major. After our move to San Francisco, I was accepted into the Marriage and Family Therapy Program, with an emphasis in Art Therapy at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont California. I began in June 1992 and graduated with my second Masters degree in 1994.

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My relationship to my art practice changed significantly through the process of studying Psychology/Art Therapy. After graduation I worked in a few, rather severe venues, as an intern before private practice was an option.

When I began my private practice it was important to find a space where I could see clients, but also have my own studio. Believe it or not, in 1998, before the dot com boom that destroyed all reasonable rental options in SF actually hit, I actually found the perfect space in a creative arts building. My goal was to work in the darkroom and studio when I wasn’t seeing clients. This might have worked, except 2 children now pre-adolescent, and work with a difficult client base compromised my good intentions. It seemed impossible to carve out enough hours. Darkroom work was impossible. I began painting.

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At first, I was painting on photographs, printed before or old furniture I had found. I had learned from past experience how important it was prime the pump in order to get my creativity flowing again. At some point in 1998, I decided to take a painting class at UC Berkeley Extension. I had never been confronted with a blank canvas before. Though my photographs had always been somewhat painterly I didn’t know the first thing about painting. Painting was more immediate than photography. I don’t think I ever anticipated what would happen next.

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I devoured painting. The first night the teacher in the extension class said, “Who are you?” He had never seen anyone attack the process with such abandon in a beginning painting class. Through the work I had done as an art therapist, which is ALL about process, I had developed a deep understanding and trust in myself as an artist. I knew I would learn more about paint and painting materials the more I worked. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I rented a space in a group-painting studio and rented out part of my therapy office. I was seeing clients 4 days a week and painting 3, then seeing clients 3 days a week, painting 4, until I was seeing clients only 2 days a week.

My therapy practice was booming. I kept raising my prices because I didn’t want to work so much. I wanted to paint. Then I got it. If I had the talent to help others get what they wanted in their lives, I was also skilled enough to get it for myself. All I ever wanted to do was make art. Really. Everything else along the way was a distraction to knock me off my path. I was told a career, as an artist was not practical, especially with two children. I decided to stop believing this idea.

One year after I started painting, I was invited into Hang Gallery in San Francisco. The gallery sold everything I gave them. I was able to leave my private practice in July 2001. That year, I had a solo exhibit at Weigand Gallery, connected to Notre Dame de Namur University and was a featured artist at the Palo Alto location of Hang. I also participated in my second open studios in SF and was chosen for the Selections Exhibit through Art Span the following year. I was one of 20 artists from a pool of about 600. In March of 2003 I had a solo exhibit at Hang and sold out the show.

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What fascinates you?

Human behaviour, culture, diversity. I am fascinated how art can bridge differences- open up dialog. I am fascinated by irony and contrasts-opposites that aren’t really such, for example love-hate. These emotions are not opposite, the intensity of the emotions are both too strong. I think hate is intense fear of difference or perhaps an intense fear of ones own unconscious or dark side.

Do you have a personal philosophy that underpins your work?

Just show up!! This is the MOST important thing in the creative process. Something always happens even when I don’t feel like working…and sometimes really interesting things happen BECAUSE of my resistance. I just try to stay open.

Do you have ideas turning over in your head all the time?

YES.

So do you use a journal to bring those ideas to reality or some other recording device?

I write things down, I write a lot actually. I love to write and have even incorporated small vignettes of stories into some of my work, but often I just do it when I get an idea…I don’t tend to make sketches, though I do use Photoshop to manipulate certain images for paintings, especially when I am working on commissions. It gives the client a very close idea of what the final painting will look like.

Eccentricity is seen as a common trait of artists of many disciplines, how about you?

Maybe I am eccentric. Does one know if they are? I feel like a chameleon. I can fit in among people in very diverse settings, some more comfortably than others.

Do you aim to break the rules of basic composition, layout etc or do you ignore the “rules” and just create?

Funny question about rules. I think it is important to know the basics. For example, I was compelled to take a beginning painting class before I made my first painting in 1998. I had no idea how to start a painting. So I learned the rules, or this particular teachers rules, for painting. After a while I got bored with doing it the same way and I wanted to experiment. This is when I began to find my own voice with the medium. I just kept asking, “What would happen if I do this?”, and I would try. It was a painting, I could always undo what I did if it didn’t work.

What seemed to happen though was the more chaos I created on the canvas the more opportunities were presented. I was constantly working my way out of disastrous paintings. As a matter of fact, I don’t ever think I have made a painting in the past 12 years when at some point in the process I didn’t think it was a complete disaster. Usually the day after I was ready to trash the whole thing, the work would somehow resolve itself. In my work, if there is not this chaos or conflict at some point, the painting has no life. I take risks just to see what will happen next.

Do you hope the viewer will “get” what you are trying to communicate or do you feel compelled to spell it out to them?

I believe the beauty of art, abstract work in particular because of its subjective nature, but all art really, is each viewer brings his or her own experience to the piece. I get asked all the time, “What influenced this work or that. Every time I tell, the person looks disappointed. After a number of these disappointing looks, I got it. They were having their own experience with the work and my answer squashed their experience. So now when someone asks me that question, I always say, I would be happy to tell you, but first tell me why you are asking or tell me what you see in the work. I don’t want my answer to make theirs wrong, because it isn’t. I think art should spur dialog, which is usually what ends up happening with this approach. Art for me is not something that is absolute.

How important is it to you that your work communicates something to the viewer?

There are people who deeply connect to my work and others that walk right past it. Funny story, during an open studio a man walked by my studio door poked his head in and said out loud, “Humph. Buffalo.” Obviously he wasn’t connecting. But then another time a woman wanted to buy a painting I had in a gallery and there was something wrong with the stretcher. I took the painting back to my studio and she waited for this painting for six weeks. When I brought the painting back to the gallery she bought it immediately, took it home to hang in her dining room. The next day she brought the painting back to the gallery to return it. When asked why she said, “It sacred my children.” This was so interesting to me because it WAS an abstract painting, nothing overtly scary. But, the children, obviously sensitive children, picked up energy in this piece that frighten them. And I totally understood what.

It was a very difficult period in my life. The energy of those days came through in the painting. The children were right to be scared! So with this said, Paintings can communicate with viewers positively, negatively and indifferently. Of course I always want people to adore my work, but the times when they don’t can be just as interesting!

If you stopped doing art right now would you miss it? There is no way I could ever stop making art. I wish I could, my life would be easier if I had a real job, and a dependable income etc. and I have tried in the past when I worked as a psychotherapist. I committed to my art practice in 2001, full time and have never looked back. This is my soul, my path. It is who I am. I have stopped questioning this.

You mention “There is no way I could ever stop making art.” So is the process or product of art somehow a therapeutic device of some kind?

Well, I am sure there is some therapeutic value, but I don’t consider my work art therapy. Art Therapy is only concerned with the process with little or no regard for the final product. Though the process is certainly an important part of my work, I do have other considerations as well such as concept, overall design, how pieces work together, intellectual considerations etc. When I said I could no longer stop making art, what I meant was my art practice is such an intrinsic part of who I am. It is more than just something I do. My art practice is my playground- it is a reflection of me, my voice, my spirit. I guess I need this mirror.

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How does having a working knowledge of Psychology assist you in your work?

Sometimes I wish I didn’t know so much and could work in blissful ignorance. It is interesting though, when I am in the process of creating a piece, I am not thinking about what it means, how it is connected etc. I am just paying attention to what is happening in the piece. After, when the piece is complete, is when I see everything! I understand the metaphor in my work very easily and how it is connected to my life and my own psychology. But, I also think the concerns I have in my work are universal ones…and lately I have been working more conceptually, so self-analysing my work is not such an issue.

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What discourages you from doing art?

I am always working. If not making art, marketing, networking planning etc. This is a full time job. No, it is a full life! There is no difference between my art and my life at this point. Today I am sick in bed and I am still working. Writing this interview…;-)

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Do you have a challenge knowing when a work is finished?

My challenge is knowing a piece is not finished and trying to make myself believe that it is. It goes back to the chaos comment. After working and wrestling with a piece for a long time, I want it to be finished, but there is always a little nag in my head. It isn’t until I REALLY complete the piece, and I know intuitively when this happens, the voice goes away.

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What about the role of titles with your work, some hate them others revel in them?

I have tried it both ways. My current work has titles. Other series have had more generic titles, titles for identification. Again it depends on the work. I don’t have any absolute rules about this.

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If you could have any piece of artwork in your personal collection, what would it be and why?

One of Anselm Keefer’s Wedding Dresses.


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The best thing an art teacher ever said to you was… “Just follow the work”. This has been invaluable. It keeps me focused on what I am doing and not concerned with what others. Though I look and am interested and get excited about other artists work, I can only go to the places my work and my process take me. Plus, it is always an exciting day when the work pushes me into the next phase of the process.

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How important do you think art is for society?

So important. I cannot imagine a society without art. Artists are the philosophers for the culture. Not only do we bring different viewpoints, thought, images, connections to the table we create the life in the culture- excitement, beauty and innovation. Without art we would live in a culture of grey -mundane, homogeny. There would be no joie de vivre. Depressing thought!

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You mention tension and poetry are created at the edges of a work… Do you want to tell us more about what you mean?

By cutting something off at the edge there is an automatic tension created, a push-pull between the edge and the object. It throws the balance off and suggests continuation into another plane. Isn’t this poetic? Often I will use the edge as the place where most of the “action” happens. The center becomes either a place to rest or a void.


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Art As a way of life, rather than a career or “job”… Do you think other people get that and appreciate the passion this might cause?

No, I don’t know what people get. I am certainly open to hearing other people’s response to that question, artists or non-artists alike. You obviously get it to ask the question. Thank you for that. I am passionate about my art practice, my life, all of the above.

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Here are a bunch of statements you can respond to any way you want. Go for the first thing that comes into your mind, or not…

Sociable and out there, or withdrawn or intense? Sociable, out there and at times intense

Tough and resilient, soft and fragile? I look fragile and soft, my attitude is tough and resilient and I think my inner core is made of steel!!! Though exhausting at times,I am a fighter for what I want…. and a survivor.

Logic and clarity or creative and messy? Clear, Creative and totally messy.

Small and intimate or large and bold? I love the extremes. At one point I was only making paintings over six feet and under 12 inches. Such different energy.

Security or insecurity? Depends on the day

Feel the art and hear the image… Feel, emotional and tactile.

The world is… f#%ked unless we can harness more creative intelligence in our leaders and everyone gets how interconnected we all are.

Creative muscle building… Comes from showing up, as with any practice or discipline.

Delicate and subtle, strong and bold? Again, I am there in the extremes.

Intellect or careless casual connections… There are no accidents. It is a matter of being in the moment, using you mind, body, emotions, spirit and whatever else is at your disposal to either respond or not to what is happening in the work at that particular moment.

Critics are important because? It is another way to have dialog about art. Agree with them or not, it is the dialog, which is important.


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Comments

5 Responses to “Connie Noyes”

  1. Cheryl McClure on January 27th, 2010 5:10 am

    Wonderful interview. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Yva Neal on January 30th, 2010 6:13 am

    The inspiration and journey the creative process leads us on truely does fuel the artists’ soul. Thank you for BEING your art.

  3. Judith HeartSong on January 31st, 2010 9:45 pm

    Connie is tremendously talented and I am so glad you interviewed her!

  4. Caroline Marcos on February 3rd, 2010 4:03 pm

    Connie’s passion and dedication to “show up” is inspiring!
    Thanks for giving a face to Art, the world has no color or life without it!
    ~Caroline

  5. Exhibition - Connie Noyes | Art Re-Source on November 11th, 2011 7:24 am

    [...] Connie Noyes, her name seems to pop up everywhere for new exhibitions, this time a show in Chicago at the Blanc gallery. [...]

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