Anna McNay

Review of Paul Noble: Welcome to Nobson at the Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street


Paul Noble: Welcome to Nobson

Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street

10 November – 17 December 2011

Oh to be inside the mind of the artist! Or, in this case, maybe preferably not… For Paul Noble’s mind must be a very peculiar place indeed. He has spent the past 15 years envisaging and designing Nobson Newtown, a Brave New World where Heaven (2009), enclosed in high brick walls with deterrent shards and empty plinths, has no way in or out, whilst Hell (2009) seems welcoming, with its art deco fencing and open gates. The concepts behind this dystopia are as skewed as the artist’s unsettling perspective, and the towering sketches (Welcome to Nobson, 2008-2010, the centre piece to the exhibition, is a massive 452 x 715 cm) loom over you, a mixture of empty space and intricate detail.

Drawn in gentle graphite, these architectural plans are precise and elaborate. No detail is overlooked. From the shadows of the fences to the toilet rolls and bin bags, the stones in the walls, each individually engraved, and the geometric accuracy of a2 + b2 =  c2 (2009) in which two enlarged slides, taken from the Escher-like playground area of the town, are placed in opposition to one another, forming perfect Pythagorian triangles. But if you look too closely, prepare to be disturbed, for this is a perverted vision. Balls and chains, manacles and hand-shaped paddles hang from the bare branched trees; a strange, dark, hooded sculpture lurks sinisterly outside the walls, a phallus protruding from his head; and inside the spookily empty space, worm-like creatures toil away in the bleak futuristic towers.

The main gallery is entered through a beaded curtain, heavy and foreboding, swallowing you into the labyrinthine world. The visitor is immediately dwarfed, not only by the size of the beads and the scale of the sketches, but also by the two monumental marble sculptures standing guard (Three, 2011 and Couple, 2011). Pink-tinged, with translucent red veins, they loom overhead like giant erect penises. Intimidating and unnerving, elements taken from the sketches made real in the here and now.

The most disturbing work of all, however, is undoubtedly Ah (2010). Hanging in a separate side gallery, along with a strangely ritualistic wooden bell, hung with carved hazelnuts (Wooden Bell, 2011), and the outline of a figure composed out of charred stones (Stone Figure, 2011), this Gordian phantasm concatenates all the most perverse elements into one debauched scene: pipes with faces; roving eyeballs; piles of excrement with limbs engaging in anal intercourse with one another, whilst simultaneously self-pleasuring and eating hotdogs with legs of their own; Orwellian pigs; horses with teeth and hats; guns; cannons; scarcely disguised Swastikas… Engraved at the centre are the words: “One hand on the plough, the other on the sword.” Is this the motto of Nobson Newtown? Where heaven is evil and hell enticing, a place of purgatory, from which there is no escape? By now I felt I’d hedged my bets long enough, and it was time to make my get away whilst the going was still good. 

Images: Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery