Award-winning artist and composer Chet Noll had a solo show, “The Creative Process,” hosted by the Wrightwood Arts Center in December 2019. Chet Noll is nationally known for his work in wood, be it butterfly sculptures or musical instruments, and for a repertoire of original music. His art has been offered at various outlets including The Huntington Library in Pasadena, the Denver Museum of Natural History and The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park. Chet Noll creates his work in Wrightwood, where he has lived for more than 25 years. Regarding this show Chet says, “There is no better artist than Mother Nature. I enjoy the challenge of turning wood into delicate art in motion. My goal is to capture the symmetry, graceful lines, and color found in Nature.” With this in mind, Chet patterns much of his art after wild, living species. Using still and video images, as well as augmented reality, the exhibit featured Chet’s art, while making connections with the environment and nature. The show was curated by Joan McCandless.
The Creative Process
by Chet Noll
I made my first butterfly when I was 12 years old. It was an idea that sprung from the need for a Mother’s Day present mixed with an inspiration and a vision. From this followed problem solving and exercising technique in what I now call the “CreativeProcess.”
An artist, young or old, first conceives of something that might be created. This can be as tangible as a sculpture or a painting or as intangible as a thought, a vision, a feeling. It might be as simple as a hummed tune, as complex as a symphonic score; for a dancer, a gesture; for a writer, words. It is an intangible burst of inspiration that comes deep from within the mind and heart of the artist. But to turn the idea into a work of art the artist must apply trained technique to the medium guided by the Creative Process.
At some point in the Creative Process the artist must let go. When the artist lets go the work is complete is free to take on a life of its own. It is an artifact of the relationship of the artist to the world. Hopefully, if the art is good and the viewer, listener or reader is truly engaged, they experience an enhanced view of their own world.
My work in my father’s wood shop began as soon as I could sit up on his workbench. I began using power tools at age four. I loved thinking of new projects and the process of designing and drawing them. Formal music study began later, at age 7. It was in music that I began to identify that part of me that was truly artistic. I found passages of music that moved me and played them over and over again. I found ways of moving with these sounds that gave the phrases meaning. Changing that inflection changed the meaning—I was fascinated by it.
Unbeknownst to me, I used the Creative Process that day I needed a Mother’s day present. I rummaged through the large bin of scrap wood in my father’s wood shop looking for something but without a specific idea in mind. Then, what I call a “relationship” struck me. I froze, leaning into the bin of dusty wood gazing at the colors below me—they were the same colors as the Cecropia moths in my insect collection. This was the insight, the connection between two very different mediums: the wood and the moth. The creative process continued in that moment as I envisioned the idea that I might be able to “paint” the colors of the moth with the colors of the woods below me.
But there was a problem. I wanted to capture the fragility of the moth and the symmetry of its design, handed to it by nature and the geometry of flight. The solution to this was stylizing the design: capturing the gestures and generalized shapes to capture not the actual moth but the essence of the moth, or more importantly, what I as the artist “sees”. How would I do this with something as hard and bulky as wood?
The next two or three weeks were spent building the butterfly. It was a wonderful time that I remember only by reviewing what I did then and comparing it to what I do now creating the butterflies in the Butterfly Collection. It was drawing and design, experimentation and problem solving; all part of the Creative Process.
I’ve returned to this work from my childhood. I love the smell of the exotic woods, the movement and resistance as I press the wood against saws and sanders—it’s a dance. I love seeing the finished product and challenging myself to capture what I see in my mind’s eye. I enjoy the whole Creative Process; from conception to sharing the final pieces with others. They capture some sense of how I see the world around me. It’s my Creative Process and I thrive on it.
It is remarkable how much of what I solved at age 12 I still do today. It is a process I had no name for at the time but now call “free-standing marquetry.”
The Creative Process takes on many forms and is expressed through a myriad of variedmediums. For me it is a way of life, an extremely satisfying way of expressing my relationship with all aspects of the world around me. I believe it is a life-long pursuit in which anyone can engage and find meaning.
For information on the art of Chet Noll, come to his arts how November 29th and 30th (see events listings), or visit keyboardart.com/woodwork.