Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Forgiveness- Nikolai Noel

Noel of Samothrace - Jugglers, acrobats and other amusing instruments for a public display

Forgiveness is an exhibition by Nikolai Noel and it is a body of work which he produced over a year. What is different about this exhibition from others at Caribbean Contemporary Arts, CCA7 is how well it is curated. Just the use of the colour ochre makes the work appealing and also shows how paintings can breath.

Forgiveness is layered with mythology, symbolism, geometry, superstition and entomology. It also speaks of self-destruction, be it be Noel himself or his interpretation of a Old World or New World or World to be. In 2005, he had an exhibition based on Christian religion debating over which race best represented Jesus Christ. Forgiveness branches to the ills of man harmed by his own doing.

If his heart is wounded, his soul laments

Noel's paintings carries the burden of sorrow by the weight of a crest that rests at the head or feet of his subjects. He also paints a winged specimen foreboding its own doom. The gas masks are an ominous reminder of the cruelty of man and of World War 1. Yet in his turmoil, Nikolai Noel's pieces are soft and the lines between masculine and feminine are blurred. There is an asexuality to them, poetically rendered with hints of a Medieval past surrounded by a decorative filigree or a crest. In his nine smaller works, decapitated heads, birds in flight and cogs are Noel's whimsical play as a circus performer.

In Trinidad and Tobago, many younger artists have been guided by their teachers whose ideology and technique seem to blind their true identity. You have to come to a decision to where it stand. But finding yourself is as simple as trusting your inner instincts...are these works distinctly mine? Mr. Noel is still working this out, nevertheless, his middle passage is worth seeing. Forgiveness runs until the 11th of May, Interameras space, Caribbean Contemporary Arts, Trinidad.

To truly live you must not lie

I have been looking forward to seeing new work by the artist Nikolai Noel. I taught him many years ago, and as all teachers would know, students are our surrogate children for whom there is a sense of pride, concern and regard. That aside, he is also a very good draftsman, as his first show at CCA7 many years ago attested. This time Mr. Noel’s body of work, entitled, “ Forgiveness,“ and features works in a variety of media. He maintains the image of a tortured man and a number of restraining devices. His work continues to be dark in content and context, with subtle and not so subtle references to religion and duty. Arms float freely of the bodies that writhe in space amidst sensual flowers, coat of arms, fleur de lisle and brocade as if to balance the dark against the light.

In this show I found that he has become more liberated in his theme, this solitary man is less oppressed and stunted, more focused on owning his devices. There is a lot of symbolism in this show and as I brought along some friends who love art to see his work, we ended up discussing many things that held our interest. We stayed for more than an hour.

We almost did not get an opportunity to see his work at all, as much to our collective surprise, the building was closed although Mr. Noel’s invitation posted the dates and times. We were also quite thrown by the folded booklets left on chairs that were placed in the Inter Americas space for Mr. Noel’s talk several nights before. The room was hot and there was not a single slip of paper in sight to state the names of the pieces, the costs, nothing! None of the works had titles, save for the numbering. Fortunately, Mr. Noel’s work could stand on its own. I must say that I was really thrown off by all of this, This is the second time that I have gone out of my way to see this young man’s work and have found that it has not been treated properly at all! Perhaps his title is apt after all.

Yet, despite all of the distractions, here is a young artist who has been steeped in the sketchbook tradition of illustration with influences ranging from Peter Minshall to Eddy Bowen, who manages to grapple with a style that is coming into its own through the use of a personal visual narrative. This is a good show and it must be seen. Adele

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