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A Talk with Nouar in Anticipation of "You Look Good Enough To Eat!"

Juxtapoz // Wednesday, 18 Feb 2009

Noir Nouar is a dark haired girl, with dark subliminal meanings and jolly palatable paintings. For example, you might think a robust shiny tomato lady is an enticing marketing icon; but three eager worms approach, their phallus shaped noses glowing red with excitement. A Bob’s Big Boy cameo also fits nicely in the genre of American advertising. But in the nude, he is a blatantly repulsive mascot for Fatty Happy Lard.


This is the precarious imagery that Nouar delivers in neat packaging, awaiting responses of repugnancy and giggles. She explores the nuances of food advertising, desire, anxiety, and good ol’ American tradition in all the glory of genetically engineered produce and milk fed veal. The contradiction between Nouar’s nauseatingly cheery characters and their imminent slaughter is at once silly and disquieting, a dilemma that has divided vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters for all time.


But don’t lose your appetite quite yet. After all, Nouar’s paintings are delightfully polished and gay. This Saturday, Jonathan Levine Gallery serves up a juicy solo-show platter that is sure to tickle your palate and spark some unusual after-dinner conversation. Kirsten Incorvaia snagged the lady of the hour for a quick interview, and found her humor noir to be just as sassy as Hot Diggity Dog.
Kirsten Incorvaia: So tell me Miss Nouar, do oranges and cupcakes feel pain?


Nouar: Oranges do feel pain, I'm sorry to say. Cupcakes, on the other hand, exist solely for the purpose of being eaten. Their greatest masochistic dream is for that moment when somebody takes a bite out of them.


What’s the story behind your name?


My mother named me after a character from ancient Armenian history. It's pronounced the same way as “noir” as in "Film Noir," which ironically suits my personality and interests quite well.


Where did you grow up, and what tickled your fancy as a kid?


I pretty much grew up in Los Angeles. As an only child, I found many ways to amuse myself like adding specimens to my bug collection, building things out of Lego’s, and melting gummy bears. I dreamed I would one day melt together all the gummy bears in the world to make one giant gummy bear.


What first sparked your interest in painting personified food items?


When I was a child, a trip to the supermarket was almost a case of sensory overload. My love of animated cartoons and advertising characters were also huge influences. In early cartoons, everything was alive. Furniture, cars, buildings, and yes: food. This fascinated me, and still does. It seems like the most natural thing in the world to make an inanimate object a living creature.

How did you land a job painting backgrounds for Nickelodeon shows?


I was hired at Nickelodeon immediately after graduating from Art Center, and it was a dream job. I was surrounded by interesting, creative people, and was actually being well paid to paint every day! I was lucky to work on a show that I loved, Catscratch. I work digitally as well, using Adobe Photoshop and Flash, but I still believe that nothing has the impact and feel of a hand-painted background.


What attracts you to the work of Enoch Bolles and Vernon Grant, two artists that have influenced your work?


Vernon Grant was an Illustrator working from the 1920s to 1940s. Whether deliberate or not, he designed the Snap, Crackle, and Pop characters for Kellogg’s and gave them bulbous penis noses. Enoch Bolles was one of the earlier illustrator and pin-up painters of the century. I like the way he stylized his female characters: his work had a lot of personality.


Who are your favorite contemporary artists?


I love the humor in Jeff Koons' work, and I love the repulsive beauty of Joel Peter Witkin's photography. And of course I still find the modern day "pop surrealist" work, in all its variety, to be really exciting.


What music are you listening to?


I listen to much of what your grandparents probably listen to. I like a lot of old Jazz, Blues, Rockabilly and especially Bluegrass. I go to festivals when I can. The rustic, vintage influences of this music often carry over my work. As far as modern music, I love anything that pushes boundaries. I have always loved the Butthole Surfers, Bjork, The Cramps, Portisehead, Thirwell, and some Industrial with a darker edge.


What books have you read recently?


I love Amy Sedaris' I like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and the insane amount of information it has. I recently read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which was grim but amazing and beautifully written. It is being made into a movie, and I hope that the filmmakers are faithful to the author's vision. I also read Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo; it was good but very sad. I still love his book called The Risk Pool most.


Are you concerned about animal rights, the environment, and the affect that consuming animal products has on one’s health?


I have been approached many times by angry vegans regarding some of my work and I thought it was pretty amusing. I love animals and don't encourage hurting them, but I can't deny the fact that I like eating them either.


Everyone has read about how the Western diet- red meat, processed foods, sugar, and additives- has negative effects on one’s health. And how something so seemingly innocuous as raising cattle or growing massive amounts of corn can actually be unbelievably detrimental to the environment. I also love animals (particularly my rabbits and mice!) and don't want to see other animals being abused. But "people gotta eat" and to expect the whole world to go vegan is just not realistic. Human beings are omnivores, and we are all products of our environment and upbringing: this is in part what I paint about. Hopefully everyone can try to be just a little more responsible and think about how their actions affect the big picture.

Why are there no men in your paintings?


There are men (or male characters) in my paintings. But let's face it: girls are cuter!


Does your work comment on eating disorders?


I am not deliberately trying to make statements about the subject. If anything it encourages having fun with the idea of consumption, and not to eradicate or demonize food. Like many women, I think I can focus on weight issues too much. I think these thoughts can occasionally creep into my paintings.


Does your imagery relate to America's obsession with fast food, and subsequent obesity problem?


I do address America's obsession with fast food indirectly: almost all fast food chains have developed happy, friendly cartoon characters. This is exactly what food advertising has done for decades. Even drive-in movie theaters enticed you into the lobby by showing parades of marching French fries, soft drinks, and candy.

Obviously, you have been very busy painting for your solo show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Do you have time for commercial work on the side? 


I have done a bit of illustration for magazines and such. Although I majored in Illustration, I have divided my time between studio projects and galleries.


What added element does text bring to select pieces?


I love typography as a graphic element. It helps to emphasize the message that I am trying to convey, and it also reinforces the relationship that my work has with vintage advertising. The text is often arch or ironic. In my painting Milk Fed Veal the viewer might first interpret the text as an endorsement to fun-out and eat lots of veal. But the idea of killing and devouring the adorable calf is pretty horrific.


Is there a contradiction between pleasure and fear in your work?


I think that there always appears to be a contradiction between pleasure and fear, whether it's in my work or in the real world. Food brings pleasure, everyone knows that. But it also involves cutting and biting and chopping, and of course killing. I want people to identify with my food characters, to the point of empathizing with that cute donut being dunked in scalding coffee or that tomato in danger of being consumed by pointy-toothed pests.


Why do all your veggies wear little funny shoes?


How else will their feet stay warm?

You Look Good Enough To Eat!
Solo Exhibition at Jonathan Levine Gallery


February 21st—March 21st, 2009
Opening Reception: Saturday, February 21st, 7pm—9pm


More on Nouar at




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