A while back, Repre, the international painters group I am a part of, sent out this interview. I thought I would post it here.
American artist Noel Hefele currently lives and works in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, New York. Noel graduated from Dartington College of Arts in 2010 with an MA in Arts and Ecology. After 1.5 years in the lovely open countryside of Totnes, Devon, he now researches and paints the crowded and bustling landscape of Prospect Park and his surrounding neighborhood.
RoofTop/ Still, We Live Among the Trees
How did you become involved in art? As a child, I was involved in various artistic activities; I would copy fellow classmate’s sketches, trying to re-create these worlds and inhabit them myself. I watched The Joy of Painting television program in amazement, as serene imagined landscapes were painted in real time. My mother led workshops entitled ‘Learning to Look’, that were lessons on how to view and discuss famous paintings. I collected comic books, copying panels I thought were interesting as I traversed the mythic well-developed super hero universes. I also started sketching my own attempts at superheroes in my notebooks in school. I was becoming aware of how easily I could be transported into these worlds and for a while they provided a much needed escape.
By the time I was exposed to oil paints, I was primed. Using color to create these worlds through clever jokes and happy accidents was like speaking without marbles in my mouth. I found a facility in oils that has only proved to be impossibly complicated and profoundly nourishing.
What are your top inspirations?I love the slippery qualities of colour and the emotional qualities of paint strokes. I am inspired while reading about landscape and how much can be learned by studying the ‘where‘ and ‘how’ we live. I am very interested in the ‘ecology of a place’—the relationships and paths of action that constitute a particular environment.
Do you have a current favourite artist?I recently was told about Rakestraw Downes, a British realist painter. He paints these incredibly meticulous plein air paintings with multiple perspectives, created by changing the location of his easel slightly from day to day. It seems like he paints more of the ‘how we see’ than ‘what we see.’ It is a subtle, fascinating difference. (After this came out, I realized my real answer to this: my friends. I am constantly inspired by all the creative and hard working people I know).
What do you find most difficult about being an artist?It is difficult to manage all of the hats required of a successful artistic practice. I recently came across the idea that you need to separate into three personalities… creative, editor, and marketer. I am sure there are even more personalities that would be useful!
I wish my education provided more practical instruction on how to proceed as an artist; if you want to become a doctor, there is a very clear well-defined path you have to take, if you want to become an artist, you are more or less on your own.
Perhaps this haziness is the nature of the discipline at the moment. Perhaps the deconstruction of ‘post-modernism’ has run its course and now is a good time for reconstructing the arts. In that sense, being in Repre feels entirely radical and forward thinking!
What’s the best thing about being an artist?The best thing about being an artist is being able to wear whatever you want to the opening/private viewing. You create your own uniform!
In all seriousness, the freedom is probably overrated. Being an artist requires a constant tuning of self-imposed discipline. When that works, I am quite pleased.
What opinion do you have of the art world today and what would you like to see change about it?For better or worse, I tend to avoid the capital ‘Art’ world. I can be a bit cynical when it comes to stroking egos, playing into trends and desires for recognition. It can be freeing to position oneself outside of that framework but it can also be alienating.
I am less cynical than I used to be, as I tend to not think about it much these days. I work primarily from my neighborhood outward, trying to create art in my lived in, everyday world.
The vastness and perspective in your most recent piece RoofTop is very interesting, can you explain how you created this piece and the process behind it? I wanted to produce a landscape painting with the vastness of a Church or Cole painting. I went to an 18 story high building right next to Prospect Park to see if I could get the entire park on one canvas. But when I got up on the roof, the park was nothing but a sea of green! It was an amazing sight, to look in one direction and see the Manhattan skyline behind a sea of green. But I wanted more identifying anchors and couldn’t think of a composition that would work. After several photo expeditions, I found this view of my neighborhood depicted in the painting. It looked agricultural with these lines of houses and trees, a tension of figure and ground that we live amidst. It was the first experience of ordering my neighborhood from a high vantage point into a total unified picture.
I took many photos that I then stitched together in Photoshop to create the distortion of looking down at Flatbush Avenue, as well as outward toward the horizon. That extended foreground is a favorite technique of mine to force a sense of being ‘in’ the painting.
Flatbush, the name of the avenue and neighborhood, has Dutch roots, and it means ‘Flat woodland, or wooded plain’ –we still do live in a wooded plain; only the buildings have ‘grown’ over the past 150 years. A working title for this painting is Still, We Live Among the Trees.
In the painting of Rutland Road a new direction seems to be evident. Previously you were painting the English Countryside with elements of the urban creeping in. How has the move to New York influenced your practice?
Each place I have lived has a different spatial logical and way of revealing or concealing ideas and physical aspects of the landscape. The first year I was in Brooklyn, I took solace in Prospect Park and made a lot of work there. In many ways I found it derivative of the ‘English Pastoral’ Ideal. As I get more comfortable with life here, I find inspiration in the neighborhood. I understand more of what I am looking at and feel the rhythms of everyday life. I find notes to riff off and resonant concepts to reflect upon. Brooklyn as a landscape is starting to make sense to me.
What techniques and materials do you use?
I paint with oils, almost exclusively. Living in Brooklyn has done wonders for finding free materials on the curb. People throw out all sorts of useful things, so sometimes I paint on boards that I find. There is a balance to create between affordable and quality materials. I am constantly working toward the affordable, but trying not to sacrifice the quality.
Could you describe a typical day in the studio?
A typical day in the studio involves a strong cup of coffee at the outset. If I am painting outside, it involves a trip to the grocery store for sustenance. If inside, I arrange a few things, cue up some podcasts and buckle down. I don’t clean my studio palette much, so usually there is paint already laid out. I may add a few new colours. After I get started the day tends to fly by with incredible speed, and I normally end up painting an hour or so past when I should have already stopped. Then it becomes a question of sorting out the next time I will be able to paint.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
What advice can you give to new artists?Practice, Practice, Practice. Be humble when you think you are the best and be confident when you feel like quitting. Have courage in your convictions and make your desires explicit—Oh, and more Practice.