On the Passing of Kenneth Noland
by Paul Theroux, Photo by Jaime Ardiles-Arce
Mysteries: Primal Blue, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 60”. Gift of Kenneth Noland to the Farnsworth Art Museum. Art © Estate of Kenneth Noland/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
One of the greatest satisfactions of my life was having Ken Noland as a friend. That he was an artist was a bonus beyond measure, because the creative person allows access to his or her intimate thoughts. The work always tells you what’s on their mind.
The luminous vitality of Ken’s paintings lights up a room. His large retrospective at the Farnsworth in Rockland a few years ago was dazzling for its color, its coherence, its physicality, and most of all its sense of life—a celebration of life without representing a single human figure, reminding us that color is life. (Swimming fish have subtle color—some of them have Noland stripes—but dead on the slab most fish are gray.) A mere glance at a Noland painting is proof he was a happy man, confident of his achievement as an innovator, sharing his vision with you.
A friend is someone to whom you are free to say any damn thing that comes into your head. That freedom epitomized my friendship with Ken. We had the same birthday, April 10, and that gave us an affinity. He was not very old when he died—85 isn’t ancient; we went fishing just last summer up the St. George River on a cold and drizzly day, and he was bantering most of the time. A few years ago we were rowing together in Wheeler Bay. He came from another age, a dramatically different place: Asheville, North Carolina, in the segregated South, and he had clear memories of those injustices. He loved the paintings of Matisse. He loved fishing. He loved Maine. He loved painting. He loved his wife and was loved in return.