I have a spontaneous tendency to see recognizable images, shapes, and patterns within unrelated forms. My unconscious is aware of visual elements that appear in contrasting light and dark, color, and abstract shapes embedded in the surrounding environment; for instance, scattered pieces of tree branches, clouds—in almost anything I see—fragments and figments can become newfound pictures. This way of seeing also informs my collage work, as I combine random painted paper pieces out of context, fueling the expression of new comprehensible images and themes. My artistic fulfillment comes from using materials in an unplanned way and discovering the meaning of the piece in the process. I don’t try to create a narrative; however, I am often drawn to depicting the human figure. I am primarily a figurative artist.
The final image often features a human face. The figures I depict are allusions to a deeper spirit that lies within the image. These allusions are intentionally ambiguous in that often something is left out or unresolved and thereby the viewer is invited to participate in the process of what the figure “becomes.” What is absent but implied in my work is not to simplify but to add a dynamic involvement to the viewing of the piece. Just as I conjure the figure from fragmentary elements, the viewer is required to bring his or her own resolution to the waiting figure.
I paint with acrylics because they dry quickly. This results in an uninterrupted painting experience, which gives a spontaneous, sensuous, and sculptural surface. I assemble recycled, torn, or cut elements from my old drawings and paintings to create collages and mixed-media pieces, and use modeling paste to give the work added dimensional shape, texture, depth, and vitality. Scraping and sanding reveals the underlying layers much like an archeological dig uncovers the past, creating mystery and complexity. Each work is an integrated whole composed of pieces, just as individuals are made up of physical and emotional elements. My figures are expressive rather than representational, products of my imagination, and born of random marks. What keeps me curious, dedicated, and obsessed in my painting is encountering the unforeseen, revealing unplanned images, and the worlds and stories of unique figures. While not depicting actual persons, I strive to capture a rich aliveness and dramatic charge in the characters. I want to challenge viewers to empathize with these people, to see their humanity, as well as their individuality.
In my series Inhabited Masks I explore masking as the human tendency to alter how one is perceived by others. The discovery process of finding the character behind the mask is suspenseful and exciting for me—very much like solving a puzzle. I feel I am shown the way to the characters by the artistic process itself. The facial features are not representational; however, the viewer can decipher a coherent figure within the marks.
Masking is a form of adorning oneself as much as a way of obscuring one’s identity or creating a new character. Almost every culture uses masks in festivities to celebrate life, holidays, and religious ceremonies. Individuals wear masks to become other than themselves, to hide or to reveal certain attributes of self, to protect themselves, or to project power. Each of these Inhabited Masks is possessed by a person whose mask provides a point of deflection from direct encounter with the viewer. These works depict people of various cultures, races, sexual orientations, and indeterminate identities. My focus is on what it is that makes us all human and what it is that makes us different.
We live at a moment in time when multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-spiritual tensions feel like they are breaking us apart, and harmony in society is absent. Many of us, and especially the young, are insisting society accept the differences within our common humanity so that all can rest in safety within our societal home—not to be assimilated and conforming, but to be able to express all our unique tribal customs, attitudes, and histories. My work portrays semi-representational or abstracted figures from a cross-section of humanity, often with indeterminate worldviews. But they are all human beings.
Image at top: Kathleen Noyes, Inner Life, acrylic on board, 12 x 12 in., 2020.