Paul Noble: GAGOSIAN

Article excerpt

WELCOME TO N0BSON, announce the capital letters in the fifteen-part drawing, dated 2010, that prefaced Paul Noble's first UK solo show since the Whitechapel Gallery's 2004 survey. But shouldn't that have been "welcome back"? Noble's instantly recognizable, manically detailed pencil-on-papcr drawings have mapped the dystopia of Nobson for some fifteen years now, and one feels one's been welcomed to it on several previous occasions. However, despite Nobson's apparent spatial coherence--its navigable if wonky perspectives and distinctive architectures formed of quasi-legible text--it is best not thought of as a place one can arrive at or return to; critical accounts that fall in step with the artist's conceit and mimic travelogues arguably mistake the map for the territory. Deep down, Nobson is less a sociogeographical allegory than a creative constraint in a vaguely Oulipian sense, and (like the mysterious "Art Machine" algorithm that supposedly dictated all of Keith Tyson's early work, or the painterly appropriations of Glenn Brown) it's one that issues in existential doubt and crisis. The letters in W-E-L-C-O-M-E-T-O-N-O-B-S-O-N are depicted in typical Noble style as awkward architectonic blocks and decorated, as if in relief, with a perverse reworking of the Genesis story. Nobson's God busies himself as per the Bible, separating light from darkness, creating the wind (by farting, natch), and fashioning each Nobsonian in his own image as a kind of tripartite maggot or turd, with head, thorax, and abdomen, each end enhanced frith faintly condomlike points.

These images are effectively preparatory sketches for the vast, multipaneled drawing that dominates Gagosian's main gallery, Welcome to Nobson, 2008-10, measuring roughly fifteen by twenty-three feet. In this piece, the letters are stacked up, totemlike, in a kind of park bounded by an impossibly fragile-looking, ornate fence. Around this perimeter are groves of delicate, treelike fountains pumping out turdlike dollops of matter. …