“My pieces are really silent songs or whispered possibilities”
LA based artist Nouel Riel’s abstract canvases have an ethereal quality. They effortlessly blend the scientific with the otherworldly, presenting what could be a galaxy of stars or perhaps a light field of energy. The aesthetic is captivating as the images she creates appear both ceremonial and ritualistic yet mystical. In that moment of contemplation when viewing Riel’s work, whether it be an existential or analytical examination, you become part of a larger conversation. Riel often finds herself in uncontrollable states of meditation when producing new material as she searches for universal truth and enlightenment. Her nuanced practice documents the different paths she has taken and ways in which her perception of others and the world continues to change. ‘Tearing’ 2017, an image that suggests the Divine Feminine, is a diagram of Riel’s internal process of being in love and experiencing its full cycle. Having reached out to Riel in November 2017 I feel privileged to have been involved in this most recent part of her journey.
1.Can you tell me a little about your background – where you are originally from and how you ended up in LA?
I grew up equal time in Oregon, Washington and Reno, Nevada. Years later while living in Portland, Oregon max capacity for growth hit, so I took off to LA. I’ve spent the last 6 years bouncing between LA and Santa Fe, New Mexico where I was finishing school. It’s great to be grounded back in LA with all the camaraderie and instigations a large city offers.
2.Can you explain to me what an ‘abstractionist’ is?
A dear friend and amazing painter Lawrence Fodor describes it well, “Distilling the cacophony of reality to its essentials/essence”.
After making for many years I realised “Abstractionist” is the most accurate and reliable descriptor for how I experience the world. Everything I’ve made is always some degree of an abstraction from the literal, third dimensional or tangible – experiencing the heart instead of the face. The journey of art making takes many twists and turns as we yearn to expand and explore. We try something new or are influenced by someone, but we’re always finding our way to channel through our truest nature. Mine/Thine is the abstract. For instance, when I meet someone I am looking at them with my eyes (obviously!) but the first information received is a colour form, sometimes sound, scent and information from their past and future – their hidden joys and sadness. It’s all hanging there in front of me like a cumulous cloud. With art making I’ve found I’m most interested and happy working to convey the hidden aspects I “see”.
3.Can you describe your practice and how you work – is your creative process spontaneous and immediate, or do you take a more methodical approach – or perhaps a bit of both?
The action is now of both. I have become more structured and grounded in my process since I am making forms that can be repeated and riffed on until the final version emerges. Where as before when I was making pure sculptural abstractions that were layers of movements existing in that moment only.
For this body of work I have been painting in a new style for a year and a half using a combination of automatic makings and static visions. I took a different approach this round by spending much time painting and staring at them until I could decipher the language they were exuding before presenting them to anyone. Previously it was hard because all my pieces were psychic predictions that I would show, but hadn’t played out in real life yet so I never fully knew what they meant until after the fact. About five months ago I put all the paintings I’ve been working on next to each other and saw two specific conversations/depictions emerging. The first describes the internal alchemical process and the second a physical/mechanical transformation that occurs in one’s body while transitioning into a higher level of awareness. From there it’s been quite methodical fleshing out and refining the steps of each process by taking things away or filling in gaps.
I’ve recently found I work best in a hyper focused and rapid manner to catch all the information running through me before I understand it and want to move on. It can sometimes be deep psychological and emotional subject matter, so working on numerous bodies of work at once helps to offset some of the deep sea dives.
4.Do you have a preferred medium – sculpture, photography or painting – these seem to be the main ones that you work with?
I love and need them all. They activate such different things while educating and offsetting each other. I will say photography and sculpture, for lack of a better term, are the most enjoyable. Especially photography for me. I’ve always had a super greedy eye for photography as it comes easily since I’m working with something that already exists. Painting on the other hand is very different. A Kali kind woman. Any real painter-painter knows it is a mad person’s work. I can’t describe the relationship and do it justice, but I spend the most time with painting and it is the most gruelling, because I am pulling things from the ether or buried unconscious into form. I also grow the most from it. As I evolve the paintings evolve. As the paintings evolve I evolve. They are one and the same. Many times I have had to take turns in my life that I haven’t wanted to and were certainly not the easy road, but I knew that if my inner growth became stagnant so would the art; namely painting. To me that’s the greatest gift someone or something could ever give you.
5.What inspires your work? Would it be right to speculate that you are perhaps inspired by nature and spiritual/other worldly forces?
Yeah, you’re very right. Art are prayers, shrines and invocations. Evolution and inner realms inspire the work. A yearning for expansion and clarification. Getting to the root cause of everything. I am making Artifacts, first and foremost, so they should have a history and much wisdom already infused while also being functional tools for transformation. My goal has always been to be so involved in a piece that my own opinions, life experience or day to day bullshit is no longer present, so when someone experiences a piece they are looking at themselves. The maker or instigation for the piece has dissolved and only a Universal Truth remains. My pieces are really silent songs or whispered possibilities. Every time I meditate in front of a guru’s photograph the same thing happens: they refuse to reveal themselves until you become silent and thirsty, even desperate enough to listen to them and then they go electric and explode, lifting veil after veil for you. That’s probably the best way to describe what I hope one day my objects will do too.
It is not interesting to me for something to be beautiful or ugly or funny or one perspective. We as humans exist in layers and objects as well are living breathing beings. I spend a lot of time sculpting the air to in-still immense energies into them, so they can exist and influence the viewer without the necessity of a thesis statement or my presence. There is a tiny percentage of the Universe that we know or is “seen” and the rest is unseen and science still can’t figure it out. My curiosities live there, in the unknown.
6.Are there individuals; artists, musicians, writers e.t.c that have inspired you to create specific works or series?
Yes and no. Firstly, everything inspires me. I could make a whole body of work off a fleck of ash, because there is so much happening there. So all things influence me one way or the other. It’s a constant cycle of being affected by something then looking for the root cause in it.
In an objective way, yes there is a constant flow of people and experiences that overtake me. One person in particular has touched me up until recently in a way that has instigated an immensity in me. Be it love or fury or obsession or admiration, I have felt compelled by them with unmeasurable intensity. The inspiration I have felt by this person has come to a close, so the series I am currently working on is the synopsis of wisdom I have gathered from them. Simultaneously I see that my experience for better or worse is innately about unresolved or freshly budding aspects of myself. I feel my work is most useful when it no longer becomes about my lover or lack-there-of or myself or a specific event, but evolves to a point that it’s a deeply relatable feeling and you’re not sure why.
7. I feel drawn to your paintings because of the intense female connection I have with them. Take for example ‘The Tearing’ 2017, which brings to mind the beauty of the female form, its fragility yet also its overwhelming power.
Hearing the resonance of this work makes me joyful! I am a woman who navigates life, love and spiritual seeking in a very feminine way. I love having the experience of a woman, but I’ve always related to feeling like a man inside as well. In art making it’s taken me a while to feel comfortable to allow the Divine Feminine to roll through and let it be however it wants to be on canvas. When I started making work I was interested in asserting myself in a way a viewer couldn’t tell my gender at all. I was tired of that being a conversation about the piece instead of the piece itself. Now I just don’t give a damn one way or the other, because like you mentioned there is so much power and a vastness of aspects to a person nonetheless a woman that it’s so exciting to see what floats through, through you.
In all of the work I have been making (and this piece in particular) I am showing the internal alchemical process of being in love with someone or yourself and breaking up, then coming out the other side in newfound unification. This is a timeless and genderless process which happens constantly through large and small cycles in people, plants, etc; but I have found that the visual depictions of many points in the process take a feminine shape or what is found in nature. I think it is important for females as well as males to look at the process that is happening internally and communicate with it since both principals are exhibited during various stages regardless of gender, race or age.
8. There seems to be a strong connection and similarity to Hilma Af Klint in your works – take for example ‘Process ll: Comet (Twinflame)’ – would you agree?
I agree. When I was in deep and uncontrollable states of meditation in New Mexico about a year ago this new work started coming out. I didn’t know what to do about it or why it looked the way it did, but I knew her process and interests well and mine is quite similar. I love her and am thankful for her work. I’ve called on her numerous times for redirection and clarification, but I also feel a comrade of many other people she probably loved as well. For instance the Sufis, Gnostics, Theologians, Alchemists and Tantric artists have also depicted similar forms for thousands of years (many lost or destroyed throughout time). People like Jacob Boehme, Robert Fludd and other alchemists were some of the first illustrations with text that I found long ago and began feeling the faint echo of knowing it for many lifetimes. Now is the most exciting time, because I am starting to depict what these comrades have been documenting for so many years.
10.Would you want to live and work anywhere else in the states or in the world in general?
YES. I have yet to visit many places in the world, but I’m at a time in life that I want to live and create work in different countries. Greece and Morocco have been calling me for ages, but I am open to many new lands that present themselves!