by Grady Mitchell | Painter Noah Becker wants us to take a long look at ourselves. Or, more specifically, take a long look at our habit of photographing ourselves. His upcoming show, For Men Who Appreciate History, opens with a reception tonight (Thursday, May 8) at the Back Gallery Project (602 E Hastings) from 6-8pm. The life-like, formal portraits that make up the show cheekily illustrate our ambivalent cultural fascination with the often ridiculed, sometimes shameful, and at times glorious “selfie”.
Many of Becker’s subjects are drawn from amateur hair models of the 60s. That novice quality is key, he says, to the success of the images. The ways in which their faces communicate nervous tension – averted eyes, blank expressions, etc. – vitalizes the images, elevates them to flesh and blood rather than two dimensional renderings. In turn, that realism makes them vivid, despite a generally neutral colour palette. Some of Becker’s other portraits pluck figures from bygone eras and drop them into a modern context, such as a dignified portrait of Philip IV bulked up in Tim Tebow’s football pads.
Never before, says Noah, has a society so discarded privacy. This is well evidenced everywhere one looks, from Ellen taking superstar selfies at the Oscars to some unknown kid getting kicked in the head by a train conductor mid-selfie (which is better than getting smeared to oblivion by the train itself, as he so very nearly did). When a viewer studies one of his paintings, Becker says, they become voyeurs, accessories to awkward, private moments.
Born in Cleveland and raised on Thetis Island and in Victoria proper, Becker first grew enamoured with art through comics. They lead to art school, which introduced him to contemporary styles and the revered masters. From there he developed his unique style of oil painting. He’s also an accomplished jazz saxophonist and the founder and editor of the online art magazine Whitehot. Early on in his career he used the internet, he says, “as a two-way mirror into the art world.” (Around 300 published writers and 3 million words later, Whitehot is still running strong.)
Along with the opening at Back Gallery Project tonight (if you’re able, take a selfie with him at the show), Becker is being added, together with a number of other coastal artists, to the Victoria Art Gallery’s permanent collection on May 16th.