"Kapow!" in the abstract: Noble draws on superheroic powers

Relayer, 2008, gouache on watercolor paper, 22 x 26.75 inches
Aaron Noble, "Rainbow 6: Relayer," 2008, gouache on watercolor paper, 22 x 26.75 inches.

By Laura Parsons


When I was in grade school, my parents lured my brother and me into  going to church with the bait of being able to buy any comic book we wanted if we’d sit through the sermon. I always went for the defiantly un-churchy horror comics–Eerie and The Witching Hour–but my brother opted for superheroes like Batman and The Incredible Hulk. After one read, we’d swap and then talk about what frames we liked best.

 So, perhaps nostalgia underlies my rapture for Aaron Noble’s works on paper, currently on display in Second Street Gallery’s Dov© Gallery. Combining Noble’s interests in comics, graffiti, and collage, the show’s nine abstract images blur the line between painting and drawing.

Noble, like me, grew up reading superhero comics in the 1960s and 1970s. As a young artist in his 20s, he became interested in the mid-century French Lettrist movement’s radical approach to collage. Then during the 1990s, murals and graffiti caught Noble’s eye. He was particularly intrigued by how graffiti worked without backgrounds and bucked political responsibility.

At the same time, superhero comics were becoming more ambivalent and decadent even as the artwork began to change through computer-generated imagery. Drawing on all these influences, Noble started cutting comic books into fragments, reassembling the de-contextualized bits into abstract collages, and then painting them large on the walls of buildings. Using the same method, he also began creating smaller works on paper.

Noble’s images at Second Street Gallery rip across their frames, twisting and turning in violent motion against blank backgrounds. Using a brush and gouache (sometimes sparkling with metallic flecks), Noble precisely mimics the black holding lines, cross-hatching, and inking of his source material. The resulting works pull viewers in with an almost-familiarity, as the eye grasps at references– blue metallic machinery, sinewy body parts, spiked armor– that ultimately prove elusive.

The compositions seem at once industrial and organic. While assembling collages, Noble says he thinks of them as “entities,” and the subsequent paintings reflect this sense of self-propelled dynamism. Often the image shoots onto the page from outside the frame. In the compelling “Pawn Checks King,” layered shafts of blue and violet extend from the upper left corner to the center of the page where they conjoin with other elements– blue knees? silver-studded red manacles?–to form a contorted ribbon.

Free of background and narrative context, Noble’s superhero-inspired artwork packs a vivid punch. Kapow!

“Aaron Noble: Drawings” is on view at Second Street Gallery through September 27. 115 Second St. SE (in the City Center for Contemporary Arts). 977-7284.