Noel Paris/Prince Onion
Words: Yasi Salek
Photos: Luis Ruano
Noel Paris is kind of like the art world Batman, except without all the darkness and crime-fighting stuff. (Also, as far as I know he doesn’t often wear latex suits). By day, he is Noel Paris—inside sales guy at Altamont and Emerica. By night (and most weekends), he is Prince Onion—immensely talented abstract painter and collage artist with an incredible level of dedication and discipline for his craft. I sat down with the superhero to chat about his work, his approach, and of course, as I am a giant stalker-y Lemonheads fan, the album art Paris recently did for the band.
How did you first get into art?
My dad is a musician and my mom is into writing, so it was just kind of a natural evolution. All of my family was into modern painting and music, so I was kind of brought up in that whole situation…so when I decided I wanted to be an abstract painter there was no controversy at all.
Did you study art in school?
I did go to art school—Laguna College of Art and Design. There were good and bad things about it. The one thing I liked was there was a small group of painters in there who were really driven and who really pushed their own painting, and that really turned me on. I just wanted to be part of that—being able to critique and talk about art and push ourselves. As far as the academia, that didn’t quite fly. I was the only abstract painter in a very traditional figurative painting school, but in a weird way it kind of worked out because I constantly had to defend my work and it kind of really made me think about what I was doing.
How did the Lemonheads single cover come about?
I’m a huge fan and I was really happy when that happened. One of my best friends is their sound man, and it just turned out that Evan (Dando) had this new album Varshons coming out and they had a single in Europe. When it came down to needing artwork for that record, they just called me up and said, “We like your work. Would you be interested in doing it?”
Of course, I jumped at it. I sent them a few paintings and they picked out the one they liked. I ended up doing all the text and stuff for it too. That was a huge highlight for me.
In a dream magical fairyland world, which musicians would you like to do album art for?
I wouldn’t mind doing a Guided By Voices record. Maybe if The Jam reformed I wouldn’t mind doing a piece for them. Let’s see … maybe if The Housemartins got back together … I would love to do a piece for them.
As a creative person, how do you find time to get to your non-commercial work? To make your art?
That was a thing that was always drilled into me growing up. That if you plan on being an artist, you really have to commit to setting aside time every day. I spend 3-4 hours on it every day of my life, from the minute I get home from work. I go straight into my studio, and whether it’s recording music or painting, every single day I put at least that much time into it. I just always felt like if I’m not going to be a weekend warrior, if I’m really going to pursue my work and really dive deep into my concepts, then I have to approach it that way. It’s just a pill I swallowed a long time ago. If you want to be a serious artist, you really have to put that time into it. That’s what I spend every free second of my life doing—working on my art.
You can’t just sit around and hope thins happen. I really want a nice body of work when it’s all said and done for me, so the only that’s going to happen is if I really put the time in.
Annoying question alert: where do you draw your inspiration?
For me, it’s all about process. The thing that is happening with my work right now is the more I do it, the more I’m trying to take myself out of it. A lot of that comes through restriction. In a way I’m constantly trying to set myself up in a bad position. I feel like if I set these limitations and restrictions, I’m going to ultimately get a different result. To me, every time I walk into the studio, whether it’s with music or art, I’m always looking at ways to get a different result, and a lot of that comes from a lot of the principals the Dadas used to talk about, like random selection. Every day I walk into the studio there’s a new formula that has to occur for me to start, and so walking into it I’m already faced with this sort of great scenario, where I don’t know what the next move is going to be until this formula sort of tells me. In a weird way it’s the never knowing what the next move I’m going to make on a piece that keeps it fresh. Everything is new for me.
Also music plays a big part in it. The music that I’m listening to during the time that I’m painting also has to reflect certain situations that are happening in the piece, so again I never know what record is going to be played at the time, so I’m constantly having new things thrown in my face, and I like that. I like the not knowing. That’s what really inspires me.
What other artists do you admire?
I really love people like Terry Winters and Bryce Marden. I love people who still believe in abstract art, who still believe in line and scale, who still believe in the picture place and who want to still push that as far as they can. It’s not just about gesture, it’s not just about color and form—it’s about how far can you take it. I just love artists who are constantly trying to push the medium or the subject matter.
What are you working on now?
There’s one piece that I’ve been working on for a few years. I did a hundred small collages as a gift for my mother, and so I’ve gone back and decided that I’m going to write music for each piece. So I’m about forty pieces into, and I have sixty more. But the thing I love about that project is every title for every piece is different, and I never know the next piece I’m going to work on until the previous piece is finished. Also, I’m forced to write about whatever the title of that painting was. So when I was making those collages, I didn’t think I was going to write music for them. So in a weird way, if there’s a title that is something as random as “My Sister’s Old Spoon Collection”, I’m forced to write about that. It’s been an amazing process, because it’s really forced me to push myself lyrically and musically, trying to write songs about things I would have never chosen to write about. That project is called Transition City.
When you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone and get intimate about a subject you would never write about, it really makes you to dig deep and say it in a cool way, rather than cheating the subject matter, you know? I’m not interested in painting things so much. I’m really more interested in the edges of things, the significance of those and how they affect other parts of the piece. Those things are all spawned from an arbitrary word, a small phrase, the time of day: all of those things drive what the piece is ultimately going to be about and I like that.
For more on Prince Onion visit http://www.princeonion.com/ and Instagram @princeonion