One might imagine the career path from environmental data scientist to fine artist to be a circuitous one, but for Lakewood-based painter Noelle Phares, it was short and direct. Not long ago, she was analyzing how built environments change the way that water flows over time. “I got ingrained in looking at landscapes in this totally different way,” she says—a skill that served her well when, just four years ago, she began to pursue her passion for painting full time. She continues to examine how man-made structures shape the natural environment, but now through her colorful landscapes.
Many of the colors you employ are departures from what occur in nature. Why? They are tools I use to portray unnaturalness. Last year, when we had a very fire-heavy summer, I was using a lot of pinks in skies. A very pink sky is so beautiful, but we have a lot of evidence that many of our wildfires are exacerbated by climate change. For me, this was a subtle nod to the darker human influence on the landscape.
Why shouldn’t we be surprised to see a classical arch or metal pool railing in one of your paintings? Our surroundings now look so much more like what I paint than the raw landscapes of classical art. Unless you’re deep in the wild, it’s hard to escape the human footprint. The motif I’ve recently been using a lot to symbolize the preciousness of nature or the human influence on it is the arched shape. It’s a less direct architectural nod than I’ve used in past work and, I think, a beautiful and stark contrast to the landscapes.
To what end? My goal is to make people think more deeply about how much they need the natural world. One way to do that is to inspect the way we interface with it. Over time, I have tried to come from a slightly more optimistic place; I’m creating softer blends of man-made shapes and landscapes in an attempt to reframe our thoughts around the combination of human development and nature—from things that stand in opposition to an opportunity for symbiosis.