Re-form school: Chris Noel saves the day

Chris Noel, "Plaza."
Chris Noel, "Plaza."

Sometimes things just fall into place. Local artist Eliza Martin was searching for a studio to rent last winter when she discovered an entire three-story brick warehouse available in Scottsville. Her vision quickly expanded beyond her own artistic needs; such a large space could house a gallery and serve as a venue for teaching workshops and classes. Plus, she could offer affordable studio space to other artists in need.

And, just like that, the Flying Pig Art Center took flight. Martin set up her own studio on the second floor in February, but she waited until May to open the main-floor gallery. Following the inaugural group exhibition, she hoped to showcase a individual artist. One problem: she had yet to line up anyone with a comprehensive body of work that could fill the space. But fate favored her again. One night, while listening to her fianc© play music at Miller’s, she met Maryland-based artist Chris Noel.

An award-winning graphic designer, Noel creates heavily textured abstract paintings (and occasionally sculpture) centered around cast-off everyday items–wood scraps, bits of metal screen, circuit boards, and all manner of widgets and whatnot. Fascinated by how archeologists use recovered rubbish to interpret past cultures, Noel explores what our detritus might say about us. “These are the artifacts we leave behind for other civilizations to dig up and try to figure out who we were and how we lived,” he writes at his website.

The 35 pieces in Noel’s Flying Pig exhibition, “Debris Paintings,” run the gamut in terms of size and reclaimed refuse, but they share traits related to Noel’s day job. Composition is consistently strong, as Noel incorporates diagonal elements and bursts of pure color that blast out from his layered. intentionally muddy gradations. Occasionally, an element proves too dominant, such as the green wooden bar slashing across the humorous “Ancient Archives,” which uses painted-over floppy disks to form a geometric pattern.

When Noel is on, though, he’s both wry and riveting. His most successful work often involves fewer elements (but there are exceptions, such as the endlessly complex sculpture, “Holy Ghost”). In “Just Passing Through,” one of his simpler works, a puddle of thick white paint flows over a central metal grate and cuts a river-like swath between variegated teal on one side and Pacific blue on the other.

Found space. Found artist. Found objects. Artistic salvation is alive at the Flying Pig.

Chris Noel's exhibition, "Debris Paintings," is on show at the Flying Pig Art Space through August 31. 561 Valley St., Scottsville. 996-7388. For more information about Flying Pig classes, workshops, upcoming exhibitions, studio space, and calls for entries, visit