Like an angel revealing itself
Barbara Noble turns the ordinary into the outrageous; the mundane into the majestic; the dull into the delicious; the, uh, well, you get it, right? She’s like a better-looking version of the French Romantic artist Victor Hugo, who was also on a constant quest for the sublime. “[He] searches my face for flaws— / real or imagined,” Noble says in her poem “Flaws,” which depicts a man searching the narrator’s face as he might examine a used car. It ends: “once endearing, / now a reason / not to buy.” There is a deep contemplation within Noble’s written work—tender, melancholy and joyful—and she continues this contemplation in her art. Noble is a true asset to Sacramento’s literary, art and state-worker circles. And now you’ll meet her.
Do you call yourself a painter, a poet or a state worker?I always call myself an artist first. I’m kind of insulted when people call it a hobby. “Oh, that’s nice, you have a hobby.” That’s insulting. Do people do that to you?
Yeah, all the time. If I had a little propeller hat, they’d say that, spin my propeller and then wipe the chocolate smudge off my face.Yeah, I think of myself as an artist, and depending on what phase I’m in at the time— whether I’m really into writing or really into painting—I’d say I’m a poet or an artist.
So what phase are you in now?I’m in the art phase.
What’s the medium?I’ve been working on a lot of sculpture—three-dimensional, so assemblage. I’m accumulating cuckoo clocks.
Are they functioning clocks?No, they’re dysfunctional cuckoo clocks! (Laughs.)
That makes them even more cuckoo.I look for broken cuckoo clocks because working clocks are a lot more expensive. And I completely gut them because I put my own clocks in there. They have to be at all angles and work, and a cuckoo clock only works if it’s vertical. So I put my little battery packs in there, and that way I can have like 20 working clocks set at all different times. I tell people that I have them set to all different places in the world so I know what time it is in, say, Bangkok, and they’re really impressed.
Yes, very smart, that Barbara Noble! Let’s see, I’ve seen a lot of penises in your paintings.You have? Well that’s your problem.
Are you trying to tell me that you’ve never drawn a penis—that it’s just me?Are there really penises?
In Gene Bloom’s poetry book.Oh, the drawings, OK. In East to West. Yeah, I did put him in a penis garden.
Yes, the penis garden. So you’re not like a penis painter? That’s what I’m trying to ask you.No, I don’t want to be tagged as a penis painter. I couldn’t do anything else then.
Right. Let’s move on. When you’re in your art mode, do you just not deal with poetry at all?Sometimes I’ll come up with little phrases and I know the whole poem is not going to happen, so I’ll jot them down. I’ll think of a title or something or just a vague idea. … When I’m making art, I’m totally satisfied by it. … If I couldn’t do any of those things [poetry or art], I’d be really miserable. I’d be really unhappy.
Which came first?First was art, because when I was a little kid that’s what I did all the time. Then I started writing poetry in junior high school. Then I started doing the whole Shakespeare thing in class and it’s like, “Oh my God,” and it’s totally eye-opening. Then you get Walt Whitman coming along and it’s like, “This is really cool.” And somewhere in there you started to get, like, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and it kind of rolls along and it gets more abstract as your tastes get more refined. I have a little poem that I wrote from when I could barely write, and my mom has it framed on her wall. It’s cool when you look back and think about when you started.
When you go to work, are you the wild and crazy artist lady?They know a little bit about it. They know that I used to go to a lot of concerts. So they’re like, “What are you going to see this weekend?” And they can’t believe [when I say], “Nothing.” They know I do poetry and they know I do art, but they don’t know to what degree. In a way, you don’t really want full disclosure. So everything we say here has to be completely confidential, just between the two of us.
It will be, mostly. We only have like one reader.