Duane Noblett reflects on change and evolution, in regard to both his art and the material with which he works.
Noblett, a professor emeritus of art at K-State, uses paper and powdered pigment in his abstract pieces. His work is featured in a new exhibit, “Environmental Adaptations: Future Perspectives,” open until Feb. 23 at Manhattan Arts Center. He tried to transform the paper into a new material for a change of pace, but it also made him think about change in people and the world.
“If something looked fairly abstract, it always had a reality,” Noblett said. “Change is something we humans experience in our lifetimes.”
Noblett began his career in art in drawing. Eventually he decided to experiment with using paper in a different way. He puts stacks of paper that are glued together in a press he compared to a carjack. It presses the stack until it becomes hard enough for him to carve. He uses drill, saws, presses, burning and other carving techniques to create shapes and textures in the blocks.
“Looking for the widest range of effects I can is interesting,” Noblett said. “Any way I can think of to affect the paper’s surface, I will keep trying.”
He first started exploring this technique in the early 2000s. He began adding color only three or four years ago. Some of his larger pieces can take as long as eight weeks to create.
When Noblett first started working in this medium, he colored the paper with powdered graphite and charcoal. He now has incorporated rust, gold leaf, copper leaf and mineral powders to create color in the pieces. He applies the powdered pigment to the carved paper and seals it onto the surface.
“I want the work to look attractive and have something that draws people to it,” he said.
Noblett said he tries to create as many different texture and color combinations as he can think of, seeing how many ways he can transform the paper. He might burn it or leave grease from the press or dirt from his hands. Sometimes he hammers rusted metal items onto the paper to apply the color.
The technique is based in Noblett’s original idea of the paper becoming the art rather than what the art is applied to. Like a painter who splatters drips onto a canvas, he said he wants the material to be what makes a piece special.
“My feeling is if painters can do that, I can do that,” Noblett said. “It’s a take-off an idea that the material is the art.”
The pieces on display at the MAC come from three collections Noblett created. The oldest is called the “Personal Series.” Noblett said each color and texture represents a different character trait. He looked at his product and assigned a personality to the piece.
“I started thinking if they were people, what kind of people would they be?” Noblett said.
The “Urbanize Series” imagines a world in which the shapes he creates are buildings that hold densely populated communities. It was one of the first times Noblett used the technique to explore how technology might change the human environment in the future.
“I began to think of the shapes as places people gather to live,” he said. “And the outside surface is a reflection of the person. I have a great deal of faith in people, so I see personality come out in the decisions people make on where to live.”
He said starting out in drawing, he likes to have a subject rather than just creating random shapes, lines and colors.
“I need to have a subject,” he said. “So I create a texture and I think, ‘That could be this.’”
Noblett’s most recent series, titled the “Drone 5 Series,” similarly envisions a world of people living in close communities. Each image in the series contains five shapes, which Noblett pictures as a landscape of tracts used for different purposes, and how that might be different than it is now.
“It’s reacting to real things in maybe not a completely realistic way,” Noblett said.