Not your average landscape painting

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Noelle Lighthouses in her home studio in Lakewood. Photo by Rebecca Stumpf

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Local environmental scientist-turned-artist Noelle Phares uses abstract paintings to explore our impact on the natural world.


At work in the cozy studio of her home in Lakewood, artist Noelle Phares is surrounded by deep canyons, snow-capped mountains, desert rock formations and wooded hills. Her paintings depict vast landscapes – some she has visited, some she has not visited, and others she has made up entirely – layered with line patterns, tiny human figures, and structures. architectural. Each piece is not only a vibrant tribute to the natural world, but a study of the tension between man and nature. “My intention is to provide commentary on how humans perceive nature in the modern world and to explore what is distorted in each landscape,” she says. In other words, “how does human development impact the landscape over time? “

Phares has been curious about this question and its answers for most of his life. After a childhood spent exploring rivers and canyons near her woodland hometown in northern California, she studied biochemistry and earned a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and landed a job with an agricultural technology company shortly thereafter. Although she has dabbled in drawing and painting as a hobby over the years, it was only recently that she decided to pursue her passion as a full-time career.

“I was fed up with office life and couldn’t wait to see the physical fruits of my labor,” says Phares, “and art was the one thing in my life that I loved to do. In 2017, she quit her agro-tech job and devoted her time to honing her painting skills. She began with small watercolor portraits of succulents, geodes and desert foliage before settling into her more recent body of multimedia abstract landscapes, seen through a scientist’s lens. “Working in the agro-tech company has totally changed my perspective on the landscape,” she says. “The landscape is the result of what happened in the past, of what is happening in the present, of what is happening below the ground, above the ground. [In my work,] we divided the landscapes into these different layers of stacked data, which is reflected in my paintings which are more geometric.

Painting by Lighthouses, “Ghost member”. Photo courtesy of Noëlle Phares

While many of Lighthouse’s compositions address the negative impacts humans have on nature – one painting depicts the climate change-induced wildfires that ravaged her hometown in California, while another depicts melting ice in the Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska – conveying a sense of sadness and unhappiness is not its purpose. “As a natural scientist, I admit that I am more pessimistic than optimistic,” she says. “But I will always remember a teacher of mine saying, ‘Don’t just be a pessimistic environmentalist; that’s not how you create change. ‘ Whether you are a painter, town planner, architect or environmental scientist, I think it’s important to create a vision for a future that is positive, something to work towards. An idea as captivating as the imagery that conveys it.

Stay tuned to the Phares Instagram feed (@noellephares) for updates on original paintings for sale, which are selling out quickly. Or, buy archival prints (starting at $ 40 for an 8×10) on his etsy store.

This article appeared in the February / March 2020 issue of 5280 Home.

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