Artist's Statement

Noël Joy Ash was born in Chicago, IL. She earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing in 2003 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been a bit of a nomadic painter ever since, living in New Orleans, Louisiana;  Monterey, California; San Angelo, Texas; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Brigstock, England; and Madison, Wisconsin. She paints portraits and landscapes and throws the occasional pot when the opportunity arises.  Noël’s work has been seen at The Warehouse Gallery, Arterie Fine Arts, The Ballweg Gallery, Gelsy Verna Gallery, the Latham Street Gallery, and The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. She can be seen most mornings around the city of Madison, catching the early morning sunlight. To catch her in the act, ask for her schedule at

I am a figurative painter in the realist vein. I have been exploring the family unit for several years now, through oils, printmaking, and watercolors. I am interested in the private nature of the family, the way they form and frame our identity and are meant to, but don’t always, allow us to be ourselves. Within the family circle, children are oblivious to the otherness of the rest of the world, and this can make for awkward situations. Currently I am looking at the way that we encounter strangers’ children outside the home, and the real and perceived judgement that parents experience when their children expose them to the public. This exploration is leading me into interesting avenues, exploring children in their own world and in their parents’ domain.  My earlier work focused on the insular family circle, in its everyday settings. But this current body of work is less about the family as a unit than it is about parents as a unit separate from their children.

I am simultaneously considering larger societal units, such as my own city of Chicago. The relationships we hold to fellow-residents of our neighborhood and city are stressing in a different way to those in our family, because we seldom draw near enough to clarify our misunderstandings. One of the results of these unresolved conflicts is the racial tension that is endemic in Chicago and across the nation. As a response to the apparent stalemate between whites and blacks in Chicago, I am painting portraits of Chicagoans who are willing to be interviewed on the topic of racial tensions. The portrait/interview format allows me to manufacture a setting in which we can talk frankly about this otherwise touchy subject. I make no pretense to having any answers to this deep-rooted conflict, but I am convinced that earnest conversations between mutually respectful individuals is a good place to start. I do believe that looking each other in the eye is a way forward.  So I seek out people who are willing to give me their time and dig into an uncomfortable topic, and I conduct the interview while I paint the interviewee. Thus the portrait itself becomes a record of our conversation.