The Space Between Things

Tumbler with Shadow (2018), corrugate, Flashe, talc, matte medium, contact paper with decollage, 24˝ × 22˝.

DeClassified CIA Decollage of the Flightpath of a UAP (2024), decollage on magazine page, 6.5˝ × 9.75˝.

Yakkity-Yak (2024), acrylic, vinyl, latex paints, gesso, paper on paper, 88˝ × 235˝.

Door Panel (2021), shelf paper, salvage wood, 23˝ × 17.75˝.

Painting on a Pedestal (Suspended Painting) (2021), salvage wood, foam, hardware, shelf paper, 43˝ × 15˝ × 7˝.

Eclipse at Great Aletsch Glacier (2023), collage, transfer printing on magazine page, 8.5˝ × 6.5˝.

Atomic Dawn (2023), decollage on magazine page, 8.75˝ × 5.5˝.

Pumpjack (Sledge) (2014), Foam, wood, tape, 43˝ × 26˝ × 50˝. Collection of Paul DeGeorge and Meredith Moore, Lawrence, Kansas.

Giant Economizer No. 2 n/a (destroyed) (2021), insulation board, spray paints, bedrail, 50˝ × 70˝ × 3.5˝.

Large Collage (2016), tape, wood, corrugate, paper, paint, 94˝ × 94˝ × 1˝.

Painting on a Pedestal (2020), cardboard box, latex paint, collage, decollate, 120˝ × 50˝ × 8˝.


Collage is all about depth, I remember reading, though I can’t remember where. Although the collage is conventionally characterized by its flatness, the hallmark of a collage should be, as the argument goes, where a hand-cut edge of an image meets or overlays another image. So collage’s critique is not so much by pronouncing the flatness of the pictorial surface against the perspectival painting that defines modern art. Rather, collage dispels painting’s illusory depth by pronouncing the material depth of one thin layer lying on top of another. This productive tension between material depth and surface is at play throughout Garry Noland’s multi-media practice, one driven by “paint[ing a] rhythm, not [a] thing,” as he cites the poet Howard Nemerov below. 

Garry Noland was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, and lives in Independence, Missouri. Noland has worked in Kansas City and Los Angeles since 1978, when he received a BA in art history from University of Missouri–Kansas City. Noland has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts/Mid-America Arts Alliance Fellowship in Works on Paper/Painting, a Studios Inc. Residency Fellowship, and a Charlotte Street Visual Artists Fellowship. Selected solo exhibits have been at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Cleve Carney Museum of Art, and Kiosk Gallery in Kansas City. Selected group exhibits have been at John Michael Kohler Art Center, California State University–Dominguez Hills, and Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Future projects include a two-person show with Laura Nugent at Northwest Missouri State University and a solo show at Hardwick Gallery, Columbia College, Columbia, Missouri. Since 2020 Noland has operated Holsum Gallery, an artist-run space, in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Noland and I conducted this interview by email from 22 April to 2 May.

Gerald Maa


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Gerald Maa (GM): Thanks for taking the time for the discussion. Could you start by telling us how you came to your art practice?

Garry Noland (GN): My thanks to Georgia Review in return. The art practice has always been there. At age six or thirteen one wouldn’t have called it an art practice, though. It was a way to ward off boredom and retain some kind of center in a topsy-turvy house. I did receive encouragement toward making art from those earliest days. My maternal great-grandmother, Estella Renick, said I was going to be an artist after seeing a few drawings of army men, tanks, planes, et cetera. She was what we call an outsider artist/textile artist whose day was filled with crafting rugs from fabric scraps. Dora Noland, my paternal grandmother, ran a quilting bee in her (now our) house. As a kid it was not unusual to be hanging out there with her and her friends. Slightly later our seventh and eighth grade art class worked on surface design repeats in various color ways. I never could get it quite right, but Mrs. Miller, the teacher, said I was valiant. Of course I had to look that up. About that time “Op Art” and psychedelic art came along, and I thought that was something I could do. I studied art history at University of Missouri in Kansas City. Two giant mentors there were Eric Bransby and Louis Cicotello. Bransby and Cicotello both were Yale MFA graduates. Bransby studied with Albers and Cicotello with Gabo.

GM: What are you particularly into as of late?

GN: I hew toward a line in Howard Nemerov’s “Painting a Mountain Stream” for a thesis statement about my practice. The poem’s narrator directs the artist in the poem to “paint this rhythm, not this thing.” It’s a clue about painting, an insight into the relation between realism and abstraction, plus a message to concentrate on the “big picture.” The work I do seemingly has no style or attributable descriptors. I would rather work as nature does and incarnate in multiple, diverse ways. This is accomplished by focusing on the rhythm (the process) and leaving the thing (the resulting objects) to happen as they will. My idea of a solo exhibition would be to have it present as a group show.

GM: This “thesis statement” about your practice is so painterly. To what extent does the dictum translate to sculpture and collage? One of the great pleasures of surveying the whole practice is seeing your equal attention to sculpture, collage, and painting.

GN: The big “if” is if I adhere to the notion of “paint this rhythm, not this thing,” then I am graciously released, in a way, from making certain things in certain ways. Nature has made us and everything around us. Nature is making all of its creation in unimaginable varieties that we “know,” and most of it we can’t “know.” Therefore, if I adhere to the thesis, then I have permission to produce in unimaginable variety. So in response to your query, this rightfully includes painting, sculptural work, works on paper, and performance (in the past). I also have a curatorial aspect to my practice for an artist-run space operating in Kansas City called Holsum Gallery. I occasionally write exhibition essays for other artists. It’s no problem and much closer to the truth if I allow myself to be and do more than one thing. Looking back at work from forty-plus years ago to now it’s easy to see how “this” came from “that.” Conversely I would be hard pressed to say in 1978, for instance, that what I made then would evolve into what I do now. The artist is in for a discovery period every day if they are lucky.

GM: I love the interior, self-involved drama and psychological tension distilled in this “if.” I’ve always been drawn to moments in art—no matter the medium—when we see the mortal hand despite demonstrated mastery. If (!) what you’re saying is that your art objects, generally speaking, dramatize an ongoing deliberation over whether or not to adhere to this thesis statement from Nemerov, then it starts to give me traction on my admiration for the strange ways abstraction and materiality work in tandem throughout. Not only in choice of material, but also in presentation, like in the spry trompe l’oeil of, say, Door Panel, or the visual trick of Pumpjack (Sledge).

GN: Your use of the mortal hand is good here. An artist’s mortal hand (and actions) are direct metaphors for nature’s actions. Drama, tension, and action provide the verbal power of seeing and investigating the nouns (objects) that are made. Where I start to have trouble is applying adjectives to art. It would be ridiculous, for instance, to critique a “cloud” or point out that this or that blade of grass is not quite right. I feel that way about art too. Also, the mortal hand reveals the importance of humor. It is the supreme act of punning to think that inert paints could be used to simulate nature’s appearance. Roberta Smith, in writing on the work of Ray Johnson in the New York Times, suggested that Johnson’s sense of humor and its revelation in Johnson’s materials and process let the audience in on a work’s moment of creation. As if we were there, in studio, collapsing distance and time. The moment we have a little grin about a work of art or some question, we enter that mystical place. These same qualities are seen in three of my favorite artists: Howardena Pindell, Beverly Buchanan, and Alan Shields. The two pieces you mention incorporate material as already loaded with content. All are common and reused or recycled. Door Panel uses an old cabinet door from our house. I used store-bought shelf paper to place a picture of wood, on wood. In Pumpjack (Sledge), boat dock foam was retrieved from a lake and propped up with a found wooden post. The gold surface is hundreds of squares of gold-colored duct tape. The verbs and nouns inherent in both pieces elevate the found, cast off materials. I intend for both these works, and all the others, to signal how we aspire to elevate the base materials and circumstances of being human. 

GM: And—to go back to your aim of having a solo show present as a group show—this “being human” exceeds, and flaunts, even, all the expectations that come when we assume a person is defined by a singular identity.

GN: It’s not really an aim to have an exhibit present as a group show. It just seems more authentic, for me, to have that expectation. To put it another way, if nature and/or evolution are artists, then all of creation, all that’s known and unknown, is its exhibit. Another aspect of my practice is the emphasis on simple process and common material. Hopefully this gets across to the audience that they can also be an artist. There was a show several years ago when the work I presented was geometric abstract “banners.” In reality the abstract shapes were dots and dashes of International Morse Code. The messaging was literally there, but it was in balanced relationship with the geometry. A young family passed in front of me at the show and the father looked back at his family in tow and said, “I could do that.” I can’t believe I actually heard that non-ironically. An emphasis on a work’s narrative can seemingly overshadow the equally important necessity of attention to craft or knowing when enough is enough in a work’s finish. I guess this can get condensed into the form vs. content discussion.

GM: How does this play out in your collage practice?

GN: Collage gets parsed into a watered-down packet of studio practice involving paper, unusual manipulations of media, and frayed edges. A “collage aesthetic” is much more and can be seen in film (Sergei Eisenstein, for example) or Cindy Sherman’s career (seen in entirety is a collage) as well as Blinky Palermo’s work, for instance. Artists benefit from being open to a collage aesthetic as it enables what’s been called “cathedral thinking”: the ability to stay with a project over time. Nothing feels better than to finish a new piece and suddenly recollect work done thirty to forty years ago. It affirms “a” correct path.

GM: What do you see on the horizon for you, and the path that you’re currently on?

GN: So. Here’s hoping that the path “is” the horizon. That is, it’s important to keep working. As the river in Nemerov’s poem: 

The water that seemed to stand is gone.

The water that seemed to run is here.

Quickly we see that the present is gone and the future is here. You must know this too, Gerald, as a poet, performance artist, translator, and cultural historian. All these rivulets braid together and they become one thing. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, in his April 28 interview in The New Yorker, in talking about comedy, brings up the topic of sculpture. We’ve heard that Michelangelo, when viewing a block of marble, saw the figure within and worked to release it. Seinfeld said pretty much the same thing when referring to comedy: “It’s like sculpting. Sculpting is removing everything that isn’t the sculpture you want to make.” I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought of painting or collaging in that exact same way, as whittling down the surface, by an additive process. I HAVE thought of “managing space.” Managing space being a slant way of figuring out how to corral so-called “negative and positive space.” In fact, they are equals; background and foreground are the same. We should rejoice in the space between things.


Images © 2024 Garry Noland. Images appear courtesy of the artist. Photographs by EG Schempf.


Garry Noland was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, and lives in Independence, Missouri. Noland has worked in Kansas City and Los Angeles since 1978, when he received a BA in art history from University of Missouri–Kansas City. Noland has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts/Mid-America Arts Alliance Fellowship in Works on Paper/Painting, a Studios Inc. Residency Fellowship, and a Charlotte Street Visual Artists Fellowship. Selected solo exhibits have been at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Cleve Carney Museum of Art, and Kiosk Gallery in Kansas City. Selected group exhibits have been at John Michael Kohler Art Center, California State University–Dominguez Hills and Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Future projects include a two-person show with Laura Nugent at Northwest Missouri State University and an installation project for Key Loop, National Building Arts Center, in Sauget, Illinois. Since 2020 Noland has operated Holsum Gallery, an artist-run space, in Kansas City, Missouri.