IN THE STUDIO / Deep purple: Iain Gale on Laurence Noga's non-figurative portraits and seductive colour planes

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The Independent Culture
Laurence Noga paints portraits. But if his spartan studio in a warehouse in London's Greenwich seems an uninviting place in which to pose for hours on end, that doesn't matter. No one sits for Noga. His subjects are drawn not from life, but from personal memory. While Noga's 'portraits' have no figurative content, the persistent viewer will detect, beneath layer upon layer of paint glaze, the hidden presence of interrelated vertical forms. That he is aware of the identity and character of his 'sitters' in these lambent conversation pieces, is evident from Noga's earlier work, which focused on specific figurative subjects, self-portraits and ghostly images of children in gardens. 'They were about the experience rather than the specific events of my childhood.' Gradually, as Noga discovered that he was able to communicate that experience more intensely through abstraction, the figures merged with the ground.

Using a gesso base, underpaintings of bright acrylic cadmium red, broadly-applied layers of glaze and metallic powder, Noga works intuitively. Most recently he has been drawn to a restrained palette based on shades of violet and blue which, hung together, seem to make a room pulsate with colour. This is his intention. 'I'm interested in radio wavebands, tastes and senses,' he says. In one of the new pictures he bisects the pale lilac ground with a red line to evoke the sensation of a sound cutting through airwaves.

In this, as in all Noga's works, the viewer is drawn deep into the picture through colours that are overwhelmingly sensual and seductive. A sense of infinite space is particularly evident in the diptychs that Noga is showing for the first time. 'I'm interested in the way the canvases fit together. The line between them doesn't come to a full stop. It's open-ended.'

This deliberate vagueness is echoed in Noga's emphasis on the parallel between the visual effect of his pictures and a scent. Perhaps the best analogy for seeing his works together is the sensation of inhaling the bouquets of several different vintages of a particular wine. Noga wants the viewer to become intoxicated by his paintings. For it is only once the gaze has become locked within the spatial matrix of the picture plane, that the forms begin to appear. As they do, an image which at first appeared beautiful often takes on a sense of menace. 'It's like the seductive power of a perfume. Pleasant but with hidden dangers. For a painting to work it has to have that sort of tension. That's what interests me. You're striving for that balance, and whether it's intuitive or conscious it's that struggle that makes it interesting.'

Laurence Noga is exhibiting at Le Chat Noir Gallery, 35 Albemarle St, W1 (071-495 6710), to 4 June.

(Photograph omitted)