Most painters don’t appreciate the word “trash” being associated with their work, but Chris Noel of Montgomery Village is an exception.
That’s because Noel physically incorporates some of the trash Americans send to the junkyard into the texture of his paintings.
“[Recycling] is not necessarily something I dwell on, but I hope it’s a message that comes out in my work,” says Noel, who will exhibit some of his recent pieces from Jan. 4-27 at The Artists’ Gallery in Frederick.
Noel says he will attend Saturday’s opening reception for the exhibit, which is called “Long After They Came for Us.”
Twenty of his pieces will be on display, about half of which will feature some of the three-dimensional paintings that Noel has become known for.
He incorporates bits of machinery, electronics and other disposable materials headed for junkyards or landfills.
Noel will also exhibit for the first time some of his recent “Faces in the Dark” paintings, which are painted on recycled wood but do not incorporate other materials.
Also new for him with this exhibit will be a three-dimensional installation.
“I have no idea what it will be until I start doing it,” he says.
A graphic designer by profession, Noel says he began painting in 2003 as a creative outlet for himself.
Using his interest in discarded debris and his knowledge of design, he nailed an object to a board, then painted the object and the surface around it with a mix of abstract shapes and colors.
“They were mostly about aesthetics, the way pieces just fit together,” he says about his early pieces, which included everything from out-of-date machine parts to used computer circuitry to one of his worn-out socks.
“They are things that I find, and a lot of things are given to me,” he says.
Noel says he is concerned about the tons of waste, toxic and otherwise, generated by economies that strive for constant growth, which he doesn’t think the earth can sustain in the long run.
“I’ve always had this underlying feeling that the human race is kind of doomed if we don’t make some changes,” he says.
Noel says he doesn’t have the answers but he can pose questions through his paintings.
What would alien beings deduce about mankind if they came to this planet? What is the human race doing and should we be doing it? Do we need someone to come and save us from ourselves?
And what would they think if they dug up one of Noel’s paintings? What would they think about why he created it, Noel asks.
Over the years, Noel says he has learned more about painting and that his work has become more representational.
“I have a lot more realism in my paintings, because I feel I can do that now,” he says.
In his piece, “Down by the Lake,” an image of which is posted on his website, a viewer can clearly recognize a building located near water that includes what look like parts from a can opener.
“But it started as something else entirely two or three years ago,” Noel says. “It was originally totally abstract. But I took it apart and redid it.”
Noel’s growing confidence as a painter has also led him toward his recent “Faces in the Dark” series.
“I’m fascinated with faces and eyes and the idea of capturing a moment, something that’s just occurred or about to occur,” he says.
“Most of these are spontaneous — I don’t have a face in my mind, I just go,” says Noel. “I start with broad strokes and it turns into an expression.”
Although recognizable as human faces, there are abstract elements in the paintings.
“An eye might not line up with the other eye, or the mouth might be [stretched wide,]” he says.
Noel says he typically works on 8 or 10 pieces at a time, switching back and forth between them.
Part of the process also includes coming up with a title.
“A lot of the time, a piece isn’t finished until it gets a name,” he says. “If I [settle on] a name in the middle of the process, it can influence the final formula.”
Most of the time, the titles are intended to get people thinking about what they are seeing.
“To me, the names are very important,” he says. “Some are personal, or they’re trying to evoke some kind of response.”