David Noonan's Utopia
Australian artist David Noonan lives and works in the United Kingdom. Although he has exhibited internationallly for many years, his work first caught our attention live at Frieze London in the fall of 2008.
Noonan's work combines nostalgia, historical characters, technical transfers and tactile qualities more befitting the previous century. His sweeping patchwork sheets and larger-than-life figures arrest most passersby, even more so for us since the imagery harkens back to vivid recollections of our youth, most specifically the late 60s and early 70s off-prime theater and music scenes.
In those days, the British alternative dance troupes, Glam and the Prog Rock movement were ubiquitous, with bands like Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel with Genesis all donning similar costumes for their carefully-orchestrated live music/performance concerts. Events of this nature were not merely music sets. They unraveled like plays with the lead singers assuming the role of story narrator. Likewise, Noonan's theater stage scenes capture the essence of each performer, the vulnerability, the comradery, the flipped lifestyle forced upon performers who work primarily at night, the conflict between doing what you love versus conforming to the party line in order to build a real career worthy of mention to the parents back home in rural England. There's no 21st century polished Euro slickness here, nor does Noonan even try for that aesthetic. There's a gypsy element, DIY, raw and rough, a busker's paradise feel to much of this work that we find particularly appealing and fitting. The dichotomy between the status of viewer and creator is center stage, as is the detachment from a bygone era, but sublimal voyeurism pulls us all back together.
We dare you to tell us that Alex Harvey singing "Anthem" live doesn't remind you of David Noonan's moodier pieces.
Born in 1969, Noonan is too young to have participated first-hand in the period depicted in some of his content unless he entered venues in someone's belly-pack. Of course, we could also be wrong by decades. He collects vintage photographs and printed period materials, assorted fabrics and bric & brac to produce mult-layered collages on substrates that are far too large and unwieldy for digital printing (Based on the complex imagery, some might surmise that his work is digital if they've only seen it in internet format: 2D, low-res and unexplained.) Noonan uses a more traditional silkscreen transfer technique, carefully building his stories layer by layer. His works are an excellent example of combining various historical epochs with current pop culture; his tools and techniques combine modern and traditional methods. The stage settings, mannequins, puppet costumes, minstrels, pantomime, jokers and jesters lead us back all the way to early 20th century Paris and Pablo Picasso, not a shabby reference in its own right. The content can be puzzling, almost disconcerting, as were Barrett's MadHatter stage antics or much of the backstage performance arts scene. Noonan never ventures offstream to cheat the viewer by delving into the sordid. The latter most certainly would have been easier and more marketable for the artist, given the world's misconceptions of the source material and the current infatuation with wall-mounted titillation. David Noonan rises far above the banal and kitsch with compelling, serious works.
For more information about one of our favorite mixed-media mid-career artists, please visit Foxy Productions, Modern Art, Saatchi Gallery, Contemporary Art Daily, David Kordansky Gallery and Artspace.