Villa Joe

Sometime after the Whitechapel show, Paul Noble changed dealer. He left Maureen Paley and went over to Larry Gagosian. Why swop one excellent gallerist for another? I don’t know and there is no easy answer on the net.

The first showing of Nobson work at the Gagosian Gallery was in New York , October 2007. On Youtube there is a
video walking us through the show. There are also a few formal shots taken of the show on Gagosian Gallery’s website. The one below shows Monument, monument and Volumes 1 to 6.


These drawings may be hard to get into, but they are great fun. In
Paul’s Palace, one of the first Nobson drawings, the architect’s house is flanked by a mountain made up of Henry Moore sculptures. A bit disrespectful, or what? Well, in Volume, 1 to 6, Paul Noble extends the disrespect (or the much more complicated feeling it is) towards the famous Modernist, by taking each of the six volumes of Henry Moore Complete Sculpture and drawing each of the sculptures in the book, all of the drawings overlapping, until the monumental three-dimensionality of the greatest 20th Century sculptor is reduced to the two-dimensional images that adorn the walls of the Gagosian. Four of the Volume drawings are part of the Tate show just now, that’s 1,2,3 and 5. However, it’s the other two that are reproduced on the Gagosian site. Here is Volume 4. That’s to say, here’s every sculpture that our Henry made from 1964-1973 in an easy to digest form: returned to the rocky hillside that they came from:


For Moore completists (certainly for Paul Noble), there had to be
Monument, monument, which might have been called Complete, complete. Yes, all of the Henry Moores, in a mountainous mountain, done and dusted. That’s the big drawing to the left in the first image on this page.

What is this all about? Well, when Paul Noble’s was studying Fine Art at Humberside College, and when he was making work after he’d moved down to London, the art he was into was largely three-dimensional abstract expressionist. He became disillusioned with abstraction when he realised that his art practice had done nothing to help in the struggle against the imposition of the M11 on the communities of East London. Since then, and with the
Nobson Newtown work in particular, he’s wanted the work to serve a purpose. Through his pencil (guided by wit, socialism and humanity), Noble feels - if I’ve got this right - that there is more chance of his communicating with more people. More chance of communicating what the world is like today compared with what it might be like if people pulled together collectively? I think that’s part of it anyway.

The main drawing in the Gagosian show of 2007 is another stunner, the one that I took a photograph of at the Tate recently. Here is
Villa Joe (Front View) in its totality. Oh blast, that couple have got in the way again. Still, it’s a pretty good shot:


Hard to believe it’s a Nobson Newtown scene at all. The landscape seems more on a Death Valley scale. Nor is the scene reminiscent of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, though Henry Moores are omnipresent in both places. The vertical objects that look like geological features or totem poles are, of course, piles of Henry Moore sculptures. Ashes to ashes, nobrock to nobrock.

Apart from the totemic piles, much of the action is in the middle sheet in the bottom row. Here it is, more or less:


It may be the drawing
Mall that introduces the turds as people in Paul Noble’s Nobson work. In that drawing, Judas is portrayed as a turd and so are the people who appear to be helping Christ from the cross. The turd in Villa Joe appears to be sitting in front of his property (or his holiday villa, as the line of text in Nobson font running along the bottom of the drawing states: ‘WELCOME TO NOBSON’S NEW PERSONALISED HOLIDAY VILLAS VILLA JOE FRONT VIEW’). The holiday villa is a glass house which spells the word JOE, in Nobson font. Inside the villa, on both ground and upper levels, is a collection of pottery or ceramics.

From an interview Paul Noble has given in
Wallpaper about a tapestry that was made from Villa Joe, it’s clear that Joe’s villa is a tribute to his friend Joseph Holtzman, an interiors fanatic. (I read elsewhere that Holtzmann has said that an igloo, a prison cell or a child’s attic room - adorned with Farrah Fawcett posters - could be as compelling as a room by a famous designer.) He was editor of the design magazine, Nest, which Noble has a collection of. Another admirer of Nest has a website which includes some images of Holtzman’s home taken from the second isssue. An eclectic mish-mash of paintings, pots, wallpapers, teapots, jugs: all of them exquisite pieces. This shot below gives you some idea. On the shelf a Giacometti shares space with jugs and a lamp that may be the work of Christopher Dresser. Below the shelf one can glimpse a framed picture by Delacroix, while the large-breasted Giacometti seems to be standing on the small head of a Henry Moore.


If on one level, Joe’s villa is a tribute to Joseph Holtzmann, the form that the tribute takes is a tribute to the above-mentioned Christopher Dresser. Holtzman said of the Nineteenth Century Scottish designer and connoissuer of international
objects d’art:Dresser married pure form and pioneering industrial design with an original and wonderful vocabulary of ornament. Isn’t that what we should be doing?”

There are no paintings inside Joe’s villa. It’s mostly ceramics: jugs and teapots. Having scrutinised a copy of
Villa Joe with a magnifying glass, I wouldn’t like to say that there was anything in particular inside the villa that Christopher Dresser couldn’t have been responsible for.

Okay, let’s pull back from the magnifying glass and look at things from a different angle. Is the turd sitting in front of Villa Joe considering the collection within, or is he allowing his gaze to pass through the transparent walls and settle on the discarded and eroding piles of Henry Moores that embellish the landscape? Both, perhaps.

It seems appropriate to turn again to Omar Khayyam. In the middle of his Rubaiyat, he recites:

‘Listen again, One evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter’s Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in rows.’

Yes, I’m pretty sure the poo person is sitting there with a copy of the Persian poetry to hand:

And strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried -
“Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”’

This is a common theme in the Rubaiyat. The human dies and his flesh turns into a vessel that is made use of by another human. In this case, Henry Moore has died and his flesh, as it were, is being used in the work of another artist, Paul Noble. And does the first artist like it? He does not!

‘Another said - “Why ne’er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
Shall he that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!”’

I have a feeling this last verse takes on the complexity of Paul Noble’s feelings towards Henry Moore and his work. But I may be wrong.

I want to turn my attention to the fifth sheet in the bottom row now, that is the bottom right hand section of
Villa Joe, which is blocked by the pair of viewers in the above reproduction. Another turd sits, presumably staring at his villa.


The cow with the yin-yang head links us to the
Acumulus Noblitatis drawing. It badly wants milking but it’s another connection that I want to explore. As soon as I became familiar with the landscape of Villa Joe I’ve been singing over and over again to myself a song that Johnny Cash sings on American IV: The Man Comes Around. But as far as I’m concerned it’s the turd that’s singing:

‘Early one morning, with time to kill
I borrowed Jed’s rifle, and sat on the hill
I saw a lone rider, crossing the plain
I drew a bead on him, to practice my aim
My brother's rifle went off in my hand
A shot rang out, across the land
The horse he kept running, the rider was dead
I hung my head, I hung my head...’

Interesting that on the original map of Nobson Newtown , as well as a Villa Carl and Trev, there is a Villa Jem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that drawing. Anyway, there you have it: Jem, Joe, Jed...

‘I set off running, to wake from the dream
And my brother's rifle, went into the stream
I kept on running, into the salt lands
And that's where they found me, my head in my hands
The sheriff he asked me, "Why had I run"
Then it came to me, just what I had done
And all for no reason, just one piece of lead
I hung my head, I hung my head...’

This song was actually written by Sting and released on the 1996 album
Mercury Rising. The song reflects his childhood fondness for TV Westerns. It surprised me to learn that such a perfect, timeless song was written by someone I associated with catchy but overplayed Police records. Conclusion: Paul Noble and Sting, two great artists from the North-East of England, twins separated at birth.

‘Here in the courthouse, the whole town is there
I see the judge, high up in his chair
"Explain to the courtroom, what went through your mind
And we'll ask the jury, what verdict they find"
I said "I felt the power, of death over life
I orphaned his children, I widowed his wife
I beg their forgiveness, I wish I was dead"
I hung my head, I hung my head...’

The image below is from Mall, but it seems appropriate. The turd must hang!

paul-noble-mall-2001-2_905 - Version 3

There’s also a man with a noose around his neck in Ye Olde Ruin. So let’s have it too:

Screen shot 2012-11-06 at 22.57.35

But it’s going to take several years for that bloke to hang himself even if he waters the tree on a regular basis. So let’s finish off the song:

‘Early one morning, with time to kill
I see the gallows, up on the hill
And out in the distance, a trick of the brain
I see a lone rider, crossing the plain
He's come to fetch me, to see what they done
We'll ride together, til Kingdom come
I pray for God's mercy, for soon I'll be dead
I hung my head, I hung my head...’

The song is about guilt and fear. The guilt that Paul Noble may sometimes feel about having drawn a bead on Henry Moore, son of a Yorkshire coal miner and an avowed socialist. The guilt and fear that I’ve sometimes felt this last fortnight about using images of Paul Noble’s work without his permission. It would be in Paul’s power now to borrow Jed’s rifle and draw a bead on me.

And so the killing goes on. We hang our heads.

If any copyright holder wants any image/lyrics altered/removed, or the rights information to be displayed differently, they should get in touch. I may make amendments to this text once I’ve read the catalogue essay from the show ‘Dot to Dot’.