Interview: Part of the Repre Art Group

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.

Rutland Road
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.

Join me for the Pictures of You closing party

My show at Tugboat Tea Company in PLG is drawing to a close. It was a great show and I really got to know the neighborhood in yet a new way. Happy to report that I put good number of red dots up on the wall, which of course clears room to create more work.  I look forward to living with the paintings that come back for a while.

Tugboat Tea Company, if you haven’t been already, is the best coffee shop in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. I am very grateful to them for hanging my work for these past two months. And a big thanks to PLG Arts as well.

I will be there from 3-6pm on Sunday September 8th, just hanging out drinking coffee and putting a final note on the show. Come out and chat if you can!

check out the Facebook event

Paint on the Mural

Today was my first working Saturday after getting started with the students. (Last week was the BATCAVES, which I haven’t posted about, but will back date it.)

This morning I organized the paints to use for the mural, setting the stage anticipating students. I even discovered a few cans of a couple different colors that put my paint supply worries at ease. We have plenty of paint to make a mural.

There is a supply issue constantly at the background of almost every aspect of life in Barbuda. You can get a lot of the items of everyday life in New York, but the question is when, and how much will it cost. A bottle of Gatorade, for instance, is generally available at the stores, but sometimes they are out of the supply and waiting for a shipment. A 20 ounce bottle cost 6.50 Eastern Caribbean dollar, or $2.40. These small things can add up very quickly.

I have sampled some of the home cooked food that people sell on the side of the road. It is all very good, but perhaps not too healthy. I haven’t eaten this much chicken since the days when my brother would complain about how often my father would serve it for dinner. Generally that food is a bit cheaper.

I was in a bit of a bind after I organized the paints. I wanted to have some students around when we added the first bit of pigment. But it was Saturday morning and I found out that they are likely doing chores and would be available a bit later.

I brought some paints down to the museum and added the word “MUSEUM ->” as a bit of clarifying signage. Immediately, I attracted some kids on bikes who were quick to lend a hand.

I am learning this is not a place for a perfectionist, not that I am one. But giving the paint brush to kids when you are painting something like letters on the wall of a museum space is a hard thing to do! I wasn’t bothered by it, just aware of the letting go, while remembering that the exposure is the key.

I met a rather commanding 5-year-old who had a lot of questions. I threatened to paint her nose with the yellow I had. I did, and the group got had a laugh! Shortly afterwards, most of them had yellow dots on their noses.

To drive home the point of this being a new experience, one of the kids opened the acrylic paint, marveled at the bright green on his finger and asked “this came from Brooklyn?”

We painted up the lettering, and I went back over the edges to tidy it up. The accent is thick thick thick. I invited some of them to come paint the mural with me later in the day.

There was a frustrating moment where I was hoping to paint the mural, but no kids were around, and then when I packed up to go paint on a canvas, the kids would show up. They promptly disappeared after I put my oil paints back. This felt like it went back and forth several times. But we got started on the mural.

I had the first group work on the water and the second group work on the sky. With 6 brushes, the wall got covered pretty quickly. We even blocked in a good section of the mangrove. Now there are a lot of things to figure out still, but it was great to have a solid and under control work session with some kids. With each successive session I will bring the size of their brushes down and that should allow me to keep it manageable. After they left for the day, I spent a bit of time working on it myself. Several of them plan to return on Sunday.

I like the balance of letting the students work and then trying to pull that together. I hope for some happy accidents that take the mural in unexpected directions.

The evening was a great casual sit down where I finally cooked something for Sophia, Louise, and John. I had a lot of questions and learned some history.

The Neighborhood Show Opening

Our pop-up neighborhood show opening went great. We had a large turn out, with people coming from all over the neighborhood. Senator Adams gave a brief speech about how he would like to see more arts in the PLG neighborhood. Leslie and Daniel provided steel drum and guitar music while everybody looked around at the artwork from over 40 contributors. The mood was energetic and most people were astounded to see something like this going on—and sad to hear it will return to being vacant mid-november.

I was able to include many of my recent paintings.  The surprise hit was the street corner,which I recently reworked. It was the most directly identifiable location. I love the chance to hang salon style, and this show provided that challenge. The bananas are a bit out of place, but so be it! I decided to hang them anyway.

Felix had a drawing of the “city in pink” hanging in the kids room. Students from several area schools were invited to participate. It was great to see them at the opening with their parents. They seemed very proud.

I was a bit out of it overall. I was fighting off a cold, which made traversing the social aspects of the opening a bit hard. My reaction time was slow. I was able to jump on the microphone for a little minute though! Did a quick verse on an acoustic cover of Marleys “I Don’t Wanna Wait in Vain For Your Love” It was fun to rock over steel drums for the first time!  But Felix had me beat. He rocked the steel drums and danced and seemed to have a great time.

Overall, its been amazing to meet so many people in the neighborhood through this effort. The response has also been inspiring. Many folks have been walking in off the street with a smile on their face. I think the show has tightened community bonds a bit, and also illustrated a vibrant arts culture in the immediate area. It will be bittersweet when the pop up gallery closes, but the case has been made for such events in the neighborhood and I look forward to seeing what we can do next.

For now, I’m off to catch the music programming for this weekend at 552 flatbush, the Neighborhood show. Make sure to catch it by the closing party on November 13th.

Upcoming Show: The Neighborhood Show

A group art show celebrating PLG Artists and Performers.

October 30 – November 13, 2011

Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (PLGNA) and PLG Arts present The Neighborhood Show: Equal parts gallery, arts & crafts market, and performing arts venue and 100% Brooklyn, for two weeks The Neighborhood Show will showcase artists living in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and surrounding Brooklyn communities with visual arts, music, spoken word, and crafts.

In a multi-ethnic neighborhood with residents from widely divergent cultural and economic backgrounds, the artist’s perspective allows us to take a new look at our selves and our neighbors and come together in celebration. Come celebrate with the residents of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and share in the work of nearly 100 resident visual artists, crafters musicians, and spoken word artists.

A group show featuring the work of more than three dozen local artists from the celebrated to the emerging whose work spans photography, portraiture, abstract, large-scale, nature scenes, and more: Otto Neals, Noel Hefele, Karl McIntosh, Joseph Bell-Bay, Lady McCrady, Georgia Redd, and dozens more.

Check here for a list of participating artists and a schedule of events.

Removed some more pages –

Took away the Philadelphia and Totnes sections from the  painting menu tab.  I’ve moved the paintings over to the now renamed “ARTWORKS” section. I’m excited about the flexibility of the new archive system. I had tried a “smart navigation” plugin, but it wasn’t working correctly. It would be great if I could sort that out. It would allow for dynamically creating galleries and THEN being able to click the arrows to cycle through the paintings in that gallery.  Could be really cool.

Tomorrow, I hope to remove the Pittsburgh section and consolidate the menu above.

Let me know if you have any thoughts about the revamp. I’m a hack at this wordpress stuff, so I am excited to get this working well (2 years after I initially switched to a portfolio based approach to wordpress).

Moving forward…

Hi there. I am getting closer and closer to understanding wordpress in the way that I knew was possible. I’ve figured out how to keep the paintings separate from the blog, and treat them more intelligently than a simple one page gallery. The “Paintings” option on the main menu will soon be replaced with the “Sandbox” menu item. I have to make sure to move the paintings over to the new system.

I’m excited about it! is maturing… stay tuned. Or, subscribe to my new mailing list.