Seeing is (not) believing

Green Sea/Amber Sea,

“Green Sea/Amber Sea,” by Leslie Noell, 8″ x 8″ (digital photo, oil wax on canvas)

Because it so rarely happens, it’s wonderful when expectations are exceeded. Leslie Noell, exhibiting at Black Mountain Center for the Arts, references Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s line in Biographia Literaria about “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

This outstanding body of work — soft and ripe, deceptively serene — is nothing if not poetic. It pulses with romance and mystery.

Noell transfers digital photos onto Japanese mulberry paper, colors them with oil paints, and covers them with Plexiglas squares. The squares are coated with several layers of beeswax; then the paper with the image is heat-fused to the Plexi, and many more coats of wax are added, giving the pieces a dreamy depth of field.

Nevertheless, the borders of the works are sometimes violated. Her “Sea and Sky” features a choppy burnt-sienna ocean extending edge to edge, while the billowy clouds move diagonally across a sky depicted on two vertical panels of uneven heights. The sea is calmer in “Floating Magnolia.” A dark ocean in French ultramarine blue bisects a white ground, while a single magnolia leaf floats in tranquil silence in a white formless sky.

Arranged as diptychs, the small framed works evoke the same sensations of aloneness found in the larger pieces. The pair of seascapes in this size feature two discrete oceans, one green and the other amber; the horizon line is defined with an expressive line of white paint. In “Migration,” a wide white border divides an inset of birds flocking over a flat, snowy landscape.

Noell’s drawings are done on the same deckle-edged mulberry paper, and are pinned, slightly overlapping and unframed, to the gallery wall. In her “Arrival,” a transfer from a digital photo of a magnolia leaf dangles from the top of one panel, while incised line drawings of row boats converge toward the center of the piece. “Rain Water” is a parade of drinking glasses wandering randomly across two sheets of paper colored an unpleasant yellow. “Stacked Boxes,” a vertical drawing, is done in blue. The boxes totter in an unstable pile, awaiting disaster.

Noell’s sculptural works are likewise complex and disturbing. The wire sculptures of stacked boxes echo the sense of unease expressed in the drawing. And walking up Noell’s “Staircase” would most certainly require a suspension of disbelief: The fragile, stainless framework is covered with a diaphanous layer of organza, creating a dreamlike state of wonder and confusion.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer. Her work is currently showing at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, La.]

Leslie Noell’s Suspension of Disbelief shows at Black Mountain Center for the Arts (225 W. State Street in Black Mountain) through Sunday, April 30. 669-0930.

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