In 2008 I trekked up to Idyllwild, a small community in the mountains of Southern California just southeast of the Coachella Valley desert. My mission was to check out the prestigious Painting’s Edge Residency students at the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Every year, key emerging contemporary artists are chosen to work one on one with noted painters in a studio setting daily for a week, which is followed by a joint exhibition at the end for anyone interested to view.
After chatting with a few of the artists working in the studio I was drawn into the studio space of artist Noah Haytin, lured by the markings I saw him carefully drawing with meticulous hands onto a burnt edge piece of paper tacked to the wall. They were the ornate scrolls of Persia and exotic patterns of Turkey and Morocco being overlaid onto a foundation of beautiful washes of color and abstraction. He noticed a teardrop shaped turquoise ring on my finger made of Egyptian gold and we struck up a conversation, bonded by our mutual love of the cultural iconography of the Middle East.
So what was this 1975-born son of the San Francisco Bay area doing creating works rich with the cultural articulations of other countries?
“Growing up I was always attracted to these ‘romanticized’ countries we learned about in school,” he describes. “As I grew older and started defining my voice as an artist, I realized I wanted to explore these cultural attractions, juxtapose them with my own life and cultural identity, and see what emerged on the other end.”
His exploration into this voice solidified while earning his MFA at the California State University at Long Beach in 2003. His paintings and drawings have been created and shown in the United States as well as internationally and have been exhibited at venues such as The Armory Show in New York, The I-5 Gallery at the Brewery in downtown Los Angeles, and Riverside Art Museum in Riverside, California.
For the past five years, he’s been living in various countries through different residency programs including Turkey and Cairo. In 2010 he was awarded the Fulbright-Hays Grant by the United States Department of State and the United States Consulate General of Casablanca, which took him to Morocco.
“Living in other cultures has been an educational experience that I could get only through leaving my comfort zone and immersing myself in something unfamiliar until it becomes familiar,” explains the artist. “It has brought new perspective to my understanding of my first home and culture as Western, Californian, American, Secular, Democrat-ish, liberal leaning, etc. The invaluable experience I have had overseas has made me also understand how others outside of my culture understand us to be and that can be startlingly different than how we see ourselves.”
One of the biggest things he’s learned is that people in other countries generally don’t dislike Americans, but they have separate feelings about American government. Noah recalls the day after Obama got elected when people in Marrakesh were hugging him on the streets.
“My works have many messages and those messages change with time and in bodies of work,” explains Noah. “Many comment on slippery subjects of culture and identity but one message that is strung throughout virtually all of my works is a reflection on reality and an urge to the viewer to pause, rethink, and hopefully ponder what is happening around him/her as time and history continue.”
While in Marrakesh, Noah also taught art to the disabled and blind; an experience so enjoyable to him that he’s carried it on back in the States. He recently moved to West Los Angeles to settle in for a moment and decide where his life will take him next, and is teaching art classes to the blind students of the Braille Institute of Los Angeles.
“As an artist, my biggest hope is to make a difference for the better both in and out of the art world. I want to make and share my unique mark as well as enrich the global arts community so that we can strengthen ties and break down borders, both real and imagined. I think artists do have an increasingly important role in the global and political psyche that is becoming more center stage, especially via the Internet and the rise of international art fairs. As more artists engage in political activity and reach out to those outside of the “art world” scene, we can deepen awareness about art and artists so that we no longer become thought of merely as strange or elitist folks who discuss frivolous issues and are only interested in pretty pictures on the wall as we are so often stereotyped as such.”
ARTICLE BY KIMBERLY NICHOLS
Newtopia managing editor KIMBERLY NICHOLS is author of the book of literary short fiction Mad Anatomy, a contributing editor to 3AM Magazine and has exhibited as a conceptual artist throughout California for the past decade. Her non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and media internationally. She was a founding editor of Newtopia in its former incarnation where she was also a member of the NewPoetry Collective. She is currently at work on her novel Fish Tales: Looking for the Bird with the Golden Feather. Follow her daily beat poetry on Twitter @LITGFOA.