Paul Noble’s obsessive architectural drawing project, ‘Nobson Newtown’, has spanned sixteen years - eventually gaining him a Turner Prize nomination. A favourite to win this year’s competition, Noble does not seem to resent the time it has taken for him to emerge into the public eye; a founding member of the artist-run City Racing gallery in Kennington, he did not ‘break through’ with contemporary artists Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin, taking longer to find his style. Keen to distance himself from the movement, Noble doesn’t consider himself a YBA, exclaiming, “I’m 48!” Originally an abstract painter whilst at art school, Noble explains that, “as sensitive as I was (and am) to the joys of form, colour, texture and whatever, adherence to Greenbergian taste wasn’t enough for me. I gave up colour and de-invented myself as an artist. I reverted to the visual languages I learnt pre-Art School”.

'Public Toilet', Paul Noble, 1999Paul Noble/Gagosian, London

A few years after his re-evaluation, ‘Nobson Newtown’ emerged: an imagined cityscape, comprising of 27 drawings which depict an imaginary town, the buildings and public spaces of which were all structured around the letters of a specially created, three-dimensional font. Noble got the idea whilst experimenting with an old computer program which presented graphic fonts in a “keymap” format; he then went on to create a blueprint of his city, which he has worked on ever since. Each drawing focuses on a certain part of the town - ingeniously called the ‘Nobspital’, ‘Lido Nob’ and ‘Nobson Central’ - with the epic works in pencil often stretching across several pieces of paper. One of his largest drawings, ‘Welcome to Nobson’, measures 15 feet wide by 23 feet high and took him over two years to complete. He says that the design was partly inspired by the Dome on the Rock, in Jerusalem, which he saw on a residency he did in the West Bank city of Ramallah; he relates the walls and gates to the Palestinians and Israelis, who are both shut in by their fears of each other.

   As suggested by his titles, Noble considers his work to be deeply autographical. His upbringing in Whitley Bay, Northumberland, is one of his main sources of inspiration: ‘Nobson Newton’ is a portrait of it, of sorts. Other than his personal life, Kurt Schwitters’ ‘Merzbarn’ (an architectural installation created within a Cornish barn) and Bomberg’s Palestine period paintings inspire Noble’s works, but essentially, he finds it hard to “admit to ‘influences’. Different artists become interesting/important to me at different times” Interestingly, despite his pieces appearing to be precise technical drawings, with hard lines and intricate detail, Noble chooses not to use ‘correct’ perspective: “Why use perspective? Perspective is not a passive representational device. I use oblique or cavalier projection because it provides a picture plane without hierarchy.” It is this level of ‘technical skill’ which has led to Noble receiving critical praise: other Turner Prize nominees such as Spartacus Chetwynd (a thirty eight year old woman who wears a beard and lives in a nudist colony) are more typical of the outrageous nominee expected by the public. Noble, however, does not see himself as technically skilled, saying, “what you have cited as ‘technically skilled’ I see as clarity.” Despite this ‘acceptability’, one element of Noble’s work has received him press - the forms which inhabit his worlds, which have been variously referred to as ‘turds’ and ‘little shits’ (The Sun, creatively calling it ‘Plop Art’). These sensual forms engage in all aspects of daily life in Noble’s town, and can also be seen in two black and white marble sculptures within the exhibition: Noble relates humans to these forms through our assumed ‘godlike’ status, when in the end we all just return to compost - or “shit.” I wonder what’s next for ‘Nobson Newton’? Noble explains that, “Nobson is finite, but so am I.”

Paul Noble’s work will be on display in the Tate Britain, until the 6th January, as part of the ‘Turner Prize: 2012’ exhibition. The winner of the Prize will be announced on 3rd December

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