Joseph Noderer: The Appalachian Seahorse
There is constant irregular conflict behind the eyes—flash! electronic fusillades jumping viciously into the breach! burning, burning chemical warfare! psychological warfare, of the most personal and literal kind!—whether the brutal bedfellows Mercury and Mars, tussling for dominance and fucking to fuck you, or the constant recce and rendering benign of the dangerous and volatile thoughts accrued from the moment one awakes and slips into Society, or the punching of mirrors, or the delicate handling of nitroglycerin emotions, or the silencing of vicious tongues, or the bolstering of saintly patience, or the valiantly held redoubt, behind which happiness flies beautifully, vulnerably, the tattered and torn through—victim of a thousand missiles, from a thousand enemies, from a thousand directions—standard which, if all goes to plan (hah!) serves as both signal and spur … but few battles of the brain are more foundational, and therefore more potentially devastating, than the Soviet Spy style, low and slow, inevitable conflict between reminiscence and reality, the fungibility of memory a rose-colored radiation, seeping into every sulci, every incident, a terribly malleable foundation—Memory!—for us to build ourselves upon, leaving us all Houses on the Sand … – B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor
And so the very places from which we spring are rendered forever vernal, and is it any wonder, when seen from Chicago or Austin, Texas, that Joseph Noderer's (NAP #96) native Western Pennsylvania is wonderfully, gloriously green, the rich vibrating verdancy of budding life, of the fresh, warm, silent engine driving forth most all the nature around it, the kind of green worth dying for—and people have! so many have—so that even the hints of dilapidation, the run down shack, the collapsed skull of a house, are presented upon a luxe chlorochrous carpet like broken-but-beautiful jewels in a jewelry box, everything underscored by romance, the hippocampus, Seahorse of Memory, gravid, in its usual unusual way, with a million young, to be protected and nurtured and adored and lived through … until, upon being confronted with the reality of a place, rather than its residual memory, one is confronted with the shrieking, horrible truth, the Banshee screaming for your fondest children, your precious thoughts, your very foundation … and the trees turn brown, the brown of liquor and dirt, and the creeping shadows which haunt the Appalachians seep into the picture, and suddenly in the thick and gnarled woods lurks the ghosts of the past, older than Fort Duquesne and younger than last barely lit furnace, and the arendian ground cover of those jewelry box rural scenes, the thick cobwebs, climb up, up first into the trees and then creep along scalps and jaw lines, fray, are lit with neon barbed shades of slightly-off (whether dirty or old or suffering under the tyranny of whatever “lighting” surrounds them) colored hypocycloids on a helmet buzzing in a bar window, the skeletal hands of the trees backlight by fires both raging anew and long extinguished, and out of this new, brutal internecine conflict—reminiscence versus reality—comes the self portraits of the wounded … a washed out face, fished from the Monongahela, a visage cruelly lacking the topographic relief of its home, flat cream and bone and rust and clay, hair softly tinted with bile, an apparition from Appalachia, from the hills and trees and hollers and factories and steel plants and Cathedral of Learning and French forts and promising white collar future and vestigial blue collar past—washed out!—and Joseph Noderer becomes a haint, haunting the space in between what he knew and knows.
When Noderer returned to his roots, the conflict would have been inevitable. To come from the comparatively cosmopolitan (and semi-cosmopolitan) climes of Chicago or Austin to proudly parochial Pittsburgh, Kingdom on Many Hills, Spear Point on the Confluence, possessor of delightfully color-coordinated legions whose most recent conquest is no less than the greatest trophy in all of sports, and to see, with irrevocable vividness, what had previously inspired … the tension must have been like a garrotte. And indeed, Horse Hill Waugh and Other Views, his solo showing at Linda Warren Projects, finds a great deal of turbulence in the conflation of his twin Pennsylvanias.The paintings on display have an amorphous, fever-dream quality to them, like memory itself; as artist and critic (and former LWP Registrar) Robin Dluzen, whose work is similarly informed by an honest, calloused type of mien, notes, people and foliage blend and swap, hide within one another, the Allegheny Plateau the most Northern reaches of the “Mystical American South.” The lush forrest is mostly gone, the trunks and branches—the bones, the permanent representations of deciduous trees, un-beholden to the cycle of the seasons and only at the mercy of time, calamity, or humanity—taking center stage, lit by the kinds of artificial colors which can only have their genesis in us.
A hint of James Dickey runs through the place, and like , there are moments of staggering beauty and lurching horror. Abe's Retreat, for example, depicts the artist's dog at rest in the woods, and captures the essence of the Horse Hill walks with a beloved companion. The should-be menacing glow, backlighting an avian tangling suspended between the trees, trunks like architecture studio scraps, and the regal—if perhaps a bit tired—form of the canine itself, present a tableau of rustic peace, the fleeting unnaturally gorgeous instance one sometimes finds in nature. Evening, by contrast, warps Noderer—sans facial features, nothing more than a hat, hair like feather lures, and a hand like a handkerchief—into the kinds of monster we regularly populate our hollers and backwoods and bar parking lots with.
Neither vision is wrong, or even mutually exclusive, and that both can be so ably captured—whether via individual paintings or within one composition (e.g. the eerie beauty, all house centipede hairs and gaping wounds, of Lightrotted, Cracked, or Night of the Horsefire, wherein the pulchritudinous gamboge glow is partially fueled by the tragic incineration of equine fat and flesh)—speaks to Noderer's ability to conjure the essence of a place rather than its reality. This should not only be the goal of all landscape painting—leaving the accuracy to the photographers—but also makes Horse Hill Waugh and Noderer's practice a representation, of sorts, of memory. Whether this is the Mail Pouch Tobacco ad Arcadia of some sylvan state which never truly existed or the harsh realities of a place where the rusting infrastructure of industry blends monstrously, beautifully, with the mottled copse around it does not matter; both are reality and fantasy in equal measure, both are indelibly true—felt, in the blood and bones and brain—and as empirically provable as the Mothman, both a brief flash, a glint in a pregnant seahorse's eye.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist, and book/music/art critic based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@BDavidZarley) and at bdavidzarley.com.