Dystopian dreams

Paul Noble, Nobson Central, 1998-9

The world of Paul Noble is a strange one. His imagined city, Nobson Newtown, which he started constructing in the form of monumental drawings in the late 1990s, is a complex space. The houses are modernist boxes; the city includes open spaces and evidence of a degree of urban planning reminiscent of the utopian ideals of the garden cities and new towns of the early to mid twentieth century. Everything, surely, should be perfect?

Nobson Central (detail)

As it turns out, things are far from ideal. Nobson Newtown is far from the utopia imagined by the architects of the new towns. Things have fallen into disrepair. The evidence of the underbelly of urban life is everywhere.

The public spaces are built on a grand scale but the houses are quite densely packed and it’s clear that all is not well in the society that inhabits them. The drawings are made on a very large scale and with extraordinary detail, making it possible to examine the minutiae of life in Nobson.

Mall, 2001-2

These are pictures that tell countless stories, though they do so with rather fewer than the specified thousand words. But words there are. The houses are letterforms – employing Noble’s own Nobfont – and the details on the public buildings spell out their function (such as the shopping mall shown above).

 Ye Olde Ruin, 2003-4

In fact, the layout of Nobson Central isn’t driven by careful urban planning and utopian ideals but by poetry. The dilapidated housing spells out the opening lines of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, confirming Nobson as the dystopia it’s crumbling walls suggest it to be.

Noble spent about fifteen years working on Nobson. The drawings are equisite though their subject matter is far from beautiful. This is definitely a body of work that should  be seen in real life to be fully appreciated but, even in reproduction, for me it’s one of the best drawing projects out there. Noble’s draughtsmanship is excellent but it’s his – possibly slightly disturbed – imagination and the many stories buried within the space that really win me over.

Actual pictures but still staying with my current text obsession. Perfect!

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