A world fit for turds

Paul Noble Pauls Palace 1996

Paul Noble, Paul’s Palace, 1996

When the Turner Prize shortlist is announced I generally have an opinion about who I want to win. When the actual Turner Prize exhibition opens, even before I get to see the show myself, that opinion often changes based on snippets seen on the news or reviews in the paper. And of course when I finally get round to seeing the show, more often than not my opinion shifts yet again. By then there are often two names in my head: the artist I want to win and the one I think will take the prize.

In a way, from the safe distance of not having seen the exhibition yet, I really wanted Paul Noble to win the 2012 Turner Prize, not for the work on show at Tate Britain but for the preposterous totality of the Nobson Newtown project: two decades, give or take a bit, of incredibly detailed drawings of an often dystopian world populated by strange turd-like creatures (as a description that does somewhat beg the question of quite what a utopia for turds would look like but this isn’t something I plan to consider further, or certainly not here).

Paul Noble Trev

Trev, 1997

As if the intensity of the drawings wasn’t enough, Noble uses the buildings of Nobson as a way to spell things out; the architecture of Nobson doubles up as typography. There are several Trev pictures in the Turner Prize exhibition, memorialising a childhood friend of Noble’s. We also see Paul’s Palace and Joe’s Villa.

I’ve written about Nobson Newtown here before, so I won’t say much more about the drawings here. In part this is to avoid repeating myself (or possibly contradicting myself, who knows which way that one would go) but it’s also because, though the Turner Prize exhibition reminded me quite how much I love Noble’s drawings and quite how wonderfully bonkers they, it’s the sculptures that really set me thinking here. And not necessarily in a good way.

Paul Noble, Small Three (Noir et Blanc), 2011

Small Three (Noir et Blanc), 2011

If Nobson Newtown is a world fit for turds, the sculptures are the turds. So far, so shitty. There is a certain logic to the interaction between the neurotically detailed drawings and the smooth marble sculptures but I’m not really convinced. Part of the fascination of Nobson is the scale of the undertaking; the drawings are made in pencil, they are incredibly detailed and they are huge. This is clearly a labour-intensive project and there’s something compelling about the idea of Noble working away in his studio for the best part of two decades on something that seems both social (cities are for people, after all) and solitary: if Nobson is inhabited it is by imaginary friends. And of course, these are very good drawings. Very good drawings of shit. They reward the viewer with plenty to smile about. And that’s enough.

For me, though in a way I do enjoy them as objects, the sculptures don’t really fit for me. They seem slick and – literally – polished. And they seem a world away from the sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking world of Nobson.

The Turner Prize 2012 is at Tate Britain until 6 January 2013.

My review of the Turner Prize 2012 for MostlyFilm can be read here. My thoughts on Turner Prize 2012 winner Elizabeth Price’s work are here.

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