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Noble Art

By Cassie Livingston
In Bayou Artist
Jun 5th, 2020
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JONI NOBLE IS A PROFESSOR, PHOTOGRAPHER AND PAINTER. HER ART HAS OFTEN BEEN INSPIRED BY HER TRAVELS TEACHING AND CREATING ABROAD

ARTICLE BY APRIL CLARK HONAKER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

Local artist Joni Noble is a professor of art who coordinates the art program at the University of Louisiana in Monroe. In her role as a professor, Noble has spent a portion of the last twelve summers teaching and creating art abroad. Since 2006, she has taught courses in The Catalyst, a 5-week program that takes university students to London, Paris, Prague, and Berlin. During the regular school year, Noble said her primary focus is on teaching and fulfilling her administrative duties, but when she’s abroad, she not only continues to educate students. She also soaks up the inspiring scenery, culture, and lively international art scene. In a single 5-week trip, Noble produces upwards of 1,000 new photographs. Some of these photographs then serve as inspiration for her paintings while others stand alone as art in their own right.


Unfortunately, this summer will be dramatically different due to the new coronavirus, which has wreaked havoc on travel plans. The Catalyst program for summer 2020, which had 100 students signed up, has been postponed, and the disruption of Noble’s regular summer plans has left her deprived of her most reliable source of inspiration.


Nevertheless, Noble’s training as an artist and her innate passion for creating make her capable of finding inspiration almost anywhere, whether it’s in one of her old photographs or in her own backyard. Her formal training in art is extensive, including a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Louisiana in Monroe (formerly Northeast Louisiana University), a Master of Fine Arts from Louisiana Tech University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in art education from the University of Texas in Austin.


This education, combined with a keen eye and a wealth of experience, makes Noble uniquely capable of transforming the scenes, objects, and people that inspire her into striking works of art. These works have garnered regional, national, and international recognition, including acceptance into the annual Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition in London. This exhibition held its 250-year anniversary last summer and, according to the website, is the world’s largest and oldest open submission exhibition. Noble is still waiting to hear whether her work has been accepted to the 2020 exhibition but received notice that she made the first cut and is hopeful for another acceptance.


In the past, her accepted works included infrared photographs of trees, which have been a constant subject for her and one she can continue to seek despite her change in summer plans. “I go through creative phases where I’m just obsessed with some subject,” she said, “and I have been a little obsessed with trees lately.” She loves photographing them and painting them. In fact, the last three large canvases she’s painted have been of live oaks at sunset.


According to Noble, there are a lot of historic trees in Europe but also here in Louisiana. As it happens, there are actually trees on the campus of the University of Louisiana in Monroe that are hundreds of years old. These trees first caught Noble’s eye when she was a student beginning to take classes as an undergraduate in the early 1970s. “It’s important to me to document them and to remember them,” she said. “They have a life.”


Before Noble was a tree-obsessed professor and world traveler, she was just a girl with a passion for art. Even in the beginning, Noble found that her talent for art was reinforced through awards and encouragement. In fact, before Noble graduated from high school, she had won a national art competition sponsored by the Veteran’s Administration, which resulted in having her art printed in a brochure that was distributed in post offices to promote hiring of veterans. Then, during her senior year of high school, her work won 1st place in a senior competition judged by the University of Louisiana faculty. Noble said that being recognized by the faculty of the university she wanted to attend really helped solidify her path. “I thought, ‘This is what I was meant to do,’” she said.


Despite her early recognition as an artist, Noble’s path to becoming an artist and professor of art was not straight. Like many of her own students, Noble was initially discouraged from pursuing art. Her students will say, “My parents don’t want me to do this,” and Noble had the same experience. On some level, she understands where these parents are coming from. After all, art doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to generating a dependable, comfortable income. “If you major in art,” she said, “there’s something inside you that has to be a passion because it’s not typically a high-earning career path. It’s a calling.” She believes if you are meant to be an artist, no other path will fulfill you.


After a year of taking classes at the University of Louisiana in Monroe, Noble’s Dad convinced her to leave art behind and change her major. Consequently, for a brief period, she studied history. During that period, love found her, and soon she was getting married and starting a family, which drew her away from her studies.


After a while though, Noble started to miss academia, especially art. She had always wanted to finish her degree, but at the same time, she wasn’t exactly looking to return to school. Fortunately, a little push from a friend set her on a new path. Twelve years after she had left her studies to start a family, that friend, who was working at the university, located the number of the art department head and shared it with Noble. Dr. Ron Alexander filled that role at the time, and Noble’s friend encouraged her to call him, which she did. After speaking with him, Noble agreed to come back with her portfolio.


When Alexander saw Noble’s work, he told her she needed to start right then, even though they were already two weeks into the semester. He was able to place her in some special topics courses, and that was all Noble needed. “It was just a passion of mine,” she said. “I always felt connected to art, and I missed it,” so starting right then was an easy decision. “There was no going back to being a history major,” she said. “I was going to study art.” And with further encouragement from Alexander and art professors, such as Bob Ward, she followed this new path all the way through her PhD and has come full circle, now holding the art program coordinator position at her alma mater.


“There have been a lot of fateful moments that have turned my career in different directions,” she said, “but I think that was the most pivotal.” Because Noble went back to school with a family at home, she took full advantage of the time she could spend in the studio and the dark room during the day. “It was such a luxury,” she said, “and I loved the challenge of it and being around other artists.” Noble admits that in the beginning she was somewhat idealistic in her mindset, looking forward to the day when she’d be able to make a living as an artist, doing what she loves. In reality, there are a lot of other tasks, including administrative tasks, that go along with being an artist and professor, but Noble is confident she made the right choice. “Sometimes it takes several years to realize your true calling, and that’s what happened to me,” she said.


Now that Noble has years of professional experience as an artist and professor, her former professors have become her peers. One in particular, Bob Ward, now trusts Noble with critiques of his work. “We exchange, and it’s a wonderful collaboration between us,” she said.


One of the best pieces of advice that Ward has given her that she continues to apply concerns the use of black in paintings. “He has always said, ‘Don’t use black,’” she said. Noble described his work as impressionistic in style, inspired by Vincent van Gogh and the plein air landscapes of his contemporaries. His works are studies of light and color, and like the impressionists and many of the post-impressionists before him, he doesn’t use black. “Everyone is drawn to the impressionists because of that,” Noble said. According to Noble, black can really dull the colors in a painting and, as a result, can dull the painting as a whole.


Like Ward, Noble loves the broken color of impressionism, and allows the style to influence her paintings. Typically, her photos are black and white, and her paintings are in color. “I need both,” she said. “It’s like yin and yang.” But even when she’s painting, her photographs play an important role. Usually she uses a photograph to help her start a painting—as a basis for the drawing. Then, once she gets started painting, she puts the photograph away, lets her imagination for color take over, and lets the painting have a life of its own.


Noble also takes some of her inspiration from other artists. “I think we’re all inspired by other artists,” she said. “I get so inspired for instance when I go to the Louvre or the National Gallery in London.” She said her recent paintings have been inspired by fellow artist Erin Hanson, a modern impressionist who created a style she calls open-impressionism. “The way she captures light is just mesmerizing to me,” Noble said. “It’s a technique I love. I just can’t get enough of it.”


With regard to her photographs, Noble is focusing on infrared photography primarily of trees. Infrared photography is unique because it literally allows the photographer to capture the unseen. The human eye can only detect a certain spectrum of light, and infrared light is not included in that spectrum. However, an infrared camera can capture the way infrared light reflects from objects in a way we can see. The results, according to Noble, can be moody, dramatic, and surprising. Although she’s tried other processes, infrared is her current favorite, and she described herself as “addicted” to it.


The addiction is one she credits to her friend and fellow photographer George McCarty. When Noble was just beginning to take photographs, she would take her photos to Quick Print Photo on N. 18th St. in Monroe, which was owned by McCarty. Over time, they became friends. In fact, McCarty encouraged her to attend a two-week workshop taught by Elizabeth Opalenik in Provence, France, in 2000 that changed her direction dramatically, leading her to create more art inspired by travel abroad. She and McCarty have been “photo buddies” for years now, and McCarty actually gave Noble her first infrared camera.


Now Noble has been creating art for so long that she has an entire room in the back of her house that is filled with her work. Her brother, daughter, son, and mother’s houses are also full of her work. “It’s such a satisfying feeling to know the people I love enjoy my art and want to view it,” she said. But it’s also satisfying for Noble to know that her work is enjoyed by an extensive list of others who have hung her work in their offices and homes here in Louisiana and across the world.

is summer will be dramatically different due to the new coronavirus, which has wreaked havoc on travel plans. The Catalyst program for summer 2020, which had 100 students signed up, has been postponed, and the disruption of Noble’s regular summer plans has left her deprived of her most reliable source of inspiration.


Nevertheless, Noble’s training as an artist and her innate passion for creating make her capable of finding inspiration almost anywhere, whether it’s in one of her old photographs or in her own backyard. Her formal training in art is extensive, including a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Louisiana in Monroe (formerly Northeast Louisiana University), a Master of Fine Arts from Louisiana Tech University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in art education from the University of Texas in Austin.


This education, combined with a keen eye and a wealth of experience, makes Noble uniquely capable of transforming the scenes, objects, and people that inspire her into striking works of art. These works have garnered regional, national, and international recognition, including acceptance into the annual Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition in London. This exhibition held its 250-year anniversary last summer and, according to the website, is the world’s largest and oldest open submission exhibition. Noble is still waiting to hear whether her work has been accepted to the 2020 exhibition but received notice that she made the first cut and is hopeful for another acceptance.


In the past, her accepted works included infrared photographs of trees, which have been a constant subject for her and one she can continue to seek despite her change in summer plans. “I go through creative phases where I’m just obsessed with some subject,” she said, “and I have been a little obsessed with trees lately.” She loves photographing them and painting them. In fact, the last three large canvases she’s painted have been of live oaks at sunset.


According to Noble, there are a lot of historic trees in Europe but also here in Louisiana. As it happens, there are actually trees on the campus of the University of Louisiana in Monroe that are hundreds of years old. These trees first caught Noble’s eye when she was a student beginning to take classes as an undergraduate in the early 1970s. “It’s important to me to document them and to remember them,” she said. “They have a life.”


Before Noble was a tree-obsessed professor and world traveler, she was just a girl with a passion for art. Even in the beginning, Noble found that her talent for art was reinforced through awards and encouragement. In fact, before Noble graduated from high school, she had won a national art competition sponsored by the Veteran’s Administration, which resulted in having her art printed in a brochure that was distributed in post offices to promote hiring of veterans. Then, during her senior year of high school, her work won 1st place in a senior competition judged by the University of Louisiana faculty. Noble said that being recognized by the faculty of the university she wanted to attend really helped solidify her path. “I thought, ‘This is what I was meant to do,’” she said.


Despite her early recognition as an artist, Noble’s path to becoming an artist and professor of art was not straight. Like many of her own students, Noble was initially discouraged from pursuing art. Her students will say, “My parents don’t want me to do this,” and Noble had the same experience. On some level, she understands where these parents are coming from. After all, art doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to generating a dependable, comfortable income. “If you major in art,” she said, “there’s something inside you that has to be a passion because it’s not typically a high-earning career path. It’s a calling.” She believes if you are meant to be an artist, no other path will fulfill you.


After a year of taking classes at the University of Louisiana in Monroe, Noble’s Dad convinced her to leave art behind and change her major. Consequently, for a brief period, she studied history. During that period, love found her, and soon she was getting married and starting a family, which drew her away from her studies.


After a while though, Noble started to miss academia, especially art. She had always wanted to finish her degree, but at the same time, she wasn’t exactly looking to return to school. Fortunately, a little push from a friend set her on a new path. Twelve years after she had left her studies to start a family, that friend, who was working at the university, located the number of the art department head and shared it with Noble. Dr. Ron Alexander filled that role at the time, and Noble’s friend encouraged her to call him, which she did. After speaking with him, Noble agreed to come back with her portfolio.


When Alexander saw Noble’s work, he told her she needed to start right then, even though they were already two weeks into the semester. He was able to place her in some special topics courses, and that was all Noble needed. “It was just a passion of mine,” she said. “I always felt connected to art, and I missed it,” so starting right then was an easy decision. “There was no going back to being a history major,” she said. “I was going to study art.” And with further encouragement from Alexander and art professors, such as Bob Ward, she followed this new path all the way through her PhD and has come full circle, now holding the art program coordinator position at her alma mater.


“There have been a lot of fateful moments that have turned my career in different directions,” she said, “but I think that was the most pivotal.” Because Noble went back to school with a family at home, she took full advantage of the time she could spend in the studio and the dark room during the day. “It was such a luxury,” she said, “and I loved the challenge of it and being around other artists.” Noble admits that in the beginning she was somewhat idealistic in her mindset, looking forward to the day when she’d be able to make a living as an artist, doing what she loves. In reality, there are a lot of other tasks, including administrative tasks, that go along with being an artist and professor, but Noble is confident she made the right choice. “Sometimes it takes several years to realize your true calling, and that’s what happened to me,” she said.


Now that Noble has years of professional experience as an artist and professor, her former professors have become her peers. One in particular, Bob Ward, now trusts Noble with critiques of his work. “We exchange, and it’s a wonderful collaboration between us,” she said.


One of the best pieces of advice that Ward has given her that she continues to apply concerns the use of black in paintings. “He has always said, ‘Don’t use black,’” she said. Noble described his work as impressionistic in style, inspired by Vincent van Gogh and the plein air landscapes of his contemporaries. His works are studies of light and color, and like the impressionists and many of the post-impressionists before him, he doesn’t use black. “Everyone is drawn to the impressionists because of that,” Noble said. According to Noble, black can really dull the colors in a painting and, as a result, can dull the painting as a whole.


Like Ward, Noble loves the broken color of impressionism, and allows the style to influence her paintings. Typically, her photos are black and white, and her paintings are in color. “I need both,” she said. “It’s like yin and yang.” But even when she’s painting, her photographs play an important role. Usually she uses a photograph to help her start a painting—as a basis for the drawing. Then, once she gets started painting, she puts the photograph away, lets her imagination for color take over, and lets the painting have a life of its own.


Noble also takes some of her inspiration from other artists. “I think we’re all inspired by other artists,” she said. “I get so inspired for instance when I go to the Louvre or the National Gallery in London.” She said her recent paintings have been inspired by fellow artist Erin Hanson, a modern impressionist who created a style she calls open-impressionism. “The way she captures light is just mesmerizing to me,” Noble said. “It’s a technique I love. I just can’t get enough of it.”


With regard to her photographs, Noble is focusing on infrared photography primarily of trees. Infrared photography is unique because it literally allows the photographer to capture the unseen. The human eye can only detect a certain spectrum of light, and infrared light is not included in that spectrum. However, an infrared camera can capture the way infrared light reflects from objects in a way we can see. The results, according to Noble, can be moody, dramatic, and surprising. Although she’s tried other processes, infrared is her current favorite, and she described herself as “addicted” to it.


The addiction is one she credits to her friend and fellow photographer George McCarty. When Noble was just beginning to take photographs, she would take her photos to Quick Print Photo on N. 18th St. in Monroe, which was owned by McCarty. Over time, they became friends. In fact, McCarty encouraged her to attend a two-week workshop taught by Elizabeth Opalenik in Provence, France, in 2000 that changed her direction dramatically, leading her to create more art inspired by travel abroad. She and McCarty have been “photo buddies” for years now, and McCarty actually gave Noble her first infrared camera.


Now Noble has been creating art for so long that she has an entire room in the back of her house that is filled with her work. Her brother, daughter, son, and mother’s houses are also full of her work. “It’s such a satisfying feeling to know the people I love enjoy my art and want to view it,” she said. But it’s also satisfying for Noble to know that her work is enjoyed by an extensive list of others who have hung her work in their offices and homes here in Louisiana and across the world.