Happy accidents


POSTED: Monday, March 02, 2009

The idea of creating art from the isolated sphere of a studio was never of interest to international muralist Aaron Noble. Instead, Noble spent the '80s and '90s—his formative years as an artist—on the streets of San Francisco, where he helped Chicano muralists transform a crime-laden alley into a public art site. Today the Clarion Alley Mural Project is a destination stop for tours of the city.




'At Work in the Egg Fields'

        » On exhibit: Through April 25

» Place: thirtyninehotel, 39 N. Hotel St.


» Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays


» Call: 599-2552 or visit thirtyninehotel.com




“;I came into practice through being a public artist,”; he said. “;It is a practice shaped by my communal enterprise in San Francisco.”;

Noble was in town last month to create a site-specific installation at thirtyninehotel, the versatile downtown venue that serves as bar, lounge, art gallery and performance space. His “;At Work in the Egg Fields”; is a mural comprising abstract images derived from cut-up panels of superhero comic books.

Noble starts his work by building a collage prototype, selecting panels and “;trimming away as much of the narrative as I can,”; so that the cutouts bear no recognizable form. Then he spends “;hours and days”; matching the cutouts with other paper pieces that work “;harmoniously”; together, like a jigsaw puzzle.

“;I'm trying to find new pictures within the pictures,”; he said. “;I wait for a happy accident—or, more to the point, I try to make the happy accident.”;

The result is a collage that conveys the energy depicted in comic books, but it's an “;energy in balance,”; Noble said. The piece is then painted on a wall.

Why not just paint the concept? Why the collaging?

“;It's a way to get more surprising imagery than my feeble imagination can produce,”; he said with a laugh.

Community art was a natural approach for Noble rather than an altruistic one. He was raised in the small coastal town of Florence, Ore., where his mother ran a small shop, Who's Minding the Store, that sold candy and posters and served as a community center.

“;It was a place where kids could hang out. There was a pool table and pinball machines,”; Noble recalled.

His father, meanwhile, opened a wallpaper factory with friends in an old part of town. “;The designs were art nouveau; as wallpaper it was overwhelming,”; Noble said. But the partners' more relevant accomplishment was revitalizing the area.

“;So I inherited my interest in unexpected social enterprises.”;

Noble's grass-roots background perfectly aligns with the priorities of thirtyninehotel's founders. “;We're interested in working with artists who are interested in the community, not those who only work in the studio,”; said curator Trisha Lagaso Goldberg.

Ironically, Nobel's global success—his work has spread to Indonesia, China, London and throughout California—keeps him in the studio more often than on the street. The thirtyninehotel project allowed him what is now a rare chance to return to the community.

“;It's my first time to Hawaii. I love Chinatown: French coffee, and Portuguese sausage and eggs for breakfast from Maunakea Marketplace,”; he said, revealing the early mornings and long hours of work at thirtyninehotel. “;I've already formed an attachment to Hawaii.”;