Linda Warren Projects is currently hosting Horse Hill Waugh and Other Views, an exhibition of new paintings by Joseph Noderer, which he produced after returning to Western Pennsylvania. The exhibition runs concurrently with Alchemy + Elements, a show of recent work by William Eckhardt Kohler, and New York; New Friends, a Kohler-curated exhibition featuring a number of MWC favorites. We caught up with Joe for a few questions.
MWC: The rural landscape has haunted paintings you made while living in more urban places, and now that you’re actually back in Western Pennsylvania, the work seems to have gotten simultaneously more and less specific – there’s a precision about things encountered in nature that are fleeting and chaotic, but ultimately real. They feel more direct: as a viewer, I’m implicated in the space, transformed by it somehow. Are there new factors being considered here?
JN: Moving back to Western PA has had an enormous influence on my work. Since about 2006 I’ve romanticized my home region, and sought out images that were reminiscent of home (but that often weren’t actually of home). Relocating to Pennsylvania from Texas was a very emotionally harrowing experience for me, which was then intensified when I arrived in PA and found that the place I had longed for was more complicated (but no less moving) than I had assumed it would be. Having a more…critical…view of what I had romanticized kind of forced me to change the way that I approached my work. I had to admit to, and embrace, some realities about what I was seeing.
The paintings have become more influenced by how this place makes me feel; feel about myself, feel about how I fit in here and how I feel about the region itself. So…they are about being here, for real…not from afar. There’s still a very moving, almost spiritual, connection I have to what I see around me (both nature and culture) and I’m still in love with expressing that in my paintings, but at the same time there is an awareness of the reality of the place that makes me a little wary of sentimentality. A sidenote…I’m curious how you feel implicated in, and transformed by, the space?
I’d say it feels more like physically being in a space – as opposed to merely looking through a window, or seeing a postcard or photograph. It seems like light itself has become a subject lately. Each painting is particular in its luminosity, and the light almost threatens to devour the painting. I notice it particularly with the paintings dominated by the presence of a figure. Are these heads meant to be read as portraits?
Pennsylvania has a lot of trees and underbrush, really tangly. One winter afternoon I saw a hill covered with bare trees that was bathed in orange sunlight, and it looked like the hill was covered in glowing orange hair. Ever since then I’ve been enamored of light interacting with live or dormant vegetation and hair. Since I think of the portraits as personifications of this region, it made sense to amplify that connection between hair and foliage.
In addition to the light/hair/foliage connection, I soon started to think of light as a force that can both illuminate and obscure/deform something…I think this is in line with the new, less romanticized view I’ve gained of home…at times it’s an unforgiving light shed upon both the beautiful and ugly aspects of my current reality.
The heads are all quasi self-portraits. They are all based initially on myself or combinations of myself and images of other people that I find myself drawn to, or attributes of people here that I am drawn to. The first head started off as an attempt to paint myself as an elderly, isolated man (aging and mortality have become something I think quite a bit about…I guess Horse Hill Waugh is pretty much my midlife crisis show). That approach continues…some of them are portraits of myself that are expressive of feelings of self-loathing, while others are portraits of myself assuming qualities of this region that I find both beautiful and repellent.
The newest paintings are in oil. What led to the switch in medium?
The switch to oil happened a few years ago. I wanted my paintings to be able to be more expressive and also more luminous, in a material sense as well as an emotional sense, and could only get there with oil. I think of acrylic as a quiet, introspective material and oil (at least in my history with it) as having an extroverted presence. I wanted my paintings to be about bigger, in a way bolder, feelings.
Sometimes I think about how normal it is for musicians to collaborate as equals, but it’s less typical for studio artists. Can you talk a little about the collaborative paintings with Dax Norman? Are they feeding your other work? How so?
I’m really glad you’re asking this question! Collaborating with Dax is one of the most important things for me in so many ways. When we started working together it really threw me for a loop…we’d hang out and pass paintings back and forth, sometimes paintings we’d find at thrift stores and often using images that either of us had found somewhere (the internet, books, magazines, album covers, wherever) as starting points. I’d also bring records over to his place, and we’d alternate a side at a time while we worked. Very different than working alone at home and zoning out to whatever album I thought informed what I was working on at the time…getting deeper and deeper into my head.
Working with Dax reintroduced me to the importance of working from the gut…reacting. It also introduced the new element of real surprise, as neither of us knew what the other was going to paint or how they would react to what had been painted.
Dax’s work is much less inhibited than mine and I admire that greatly…working with Dax I became more able to lower my inhibitions, which in my solo work is what allowed me to making the portraits, and to experiment much more with mark, texture and even humor…basically, working with Dax has helped me to get outside of my comfort zone in the best way possible.
While I paint I often wonder what he would do if I were to pass the painting over to him…and sometimes I even try to collaborate with myself, trying to get outside of myself while I make a part of whatever it is I’m working on (but that’s pretty much impossible). Thankfully he and I still collaborate via mail, to lose that connection would be really sad.
Thank you Joe!
In 2012, Noderer was included in the MWC-curated exhibition Tenses of Landscape. View his comments for that exhibition here.
From top: Old Jonah, 2015, oil and acrylic on canvas over panel, 12 x 10″; Lightrotted, Cracked, 2016, oil on panel, 48 x 36″; Danger Bird (with Dax Norman), 2013, oil on canvas.