Monroe Native, Emory Nolan, is now a full-fledged New Orleanian with a keen eye for art. His talents are impressive, and his earnest desire to cultivate his skill is inspiring.
article by Mary Napoli
photography by Martin G Meyers
Emory Nolan’s striking blue eyes are fixed on an abstract painting created with vibrant shades of orange and gold. He is a talented artist, and his own worst critic, it seems. After contemplating the artwork for a few moments, his face softens to a charismatic smile.
“Thank you,” he says, responding to the compliment he has just been given. He may be a full fledged New Orleanian now, but his voice remains full of North Delta drawl.
Nolan is a thirty-something Monroe native, who has made his mark on the New Orleans art scene. His style is still evolving, but many in the industry are taking notice. His work varies from a forthright, representational style to an expressive, purely abstract form. The path to his profession was a winding road, but even at an early age, his creative interests were piqued.
“One of my first memories of art was being held in my mother’s arms when I was a kid,” says the artist, remembering the moment clearly. “She was on the phone, and I watched her doodle. I remember that it was fascinating to watch. It really left an impression on me.”
At Louisiana Tech, Nolan felt compelled to follow his father’s lead and embark on a career in dentistry. Dr. Mike Nolan, a well respected dentist who built a successful practice and endeared himself to his loyal patients, was a great influence on his son’s academic career. A biology major during his first several quarters, Emory Nolan was an excellent student. He excelled in his science based courses, although his heart was never truly invested in his studies. At the time, a career rooted in the arts was not even on the horizon.
“I never considered a career in art until I got to college. I started off in pre-dentistry; it seemed like a logical fit,” he recalls. “I stayed with it for two years before I had an epiphany. I knew it wasn’t the direction I was going any longer.”
Nolan became an art major and found his calling. He experimented with different mediums and found pleasure in learning how to manipulate each one.
“I always excelled with pencil and charcoal, and it was my favorite medium in school. Then I got into painting and opened those doors. I started with oils, but now I mainly work with acrylic on canvas,” says Nolan.
After graduating from Tech, the artist felt the call of New Orleans, as many creatives do. Although the arts scene can be fickle, he quickly found his place within the industry. He was invited to participate in White Linen Night, an epic yearly event in the art world and made contacts within multiple galleries. Nolan developed somewhat of an umbilical connection with the Crescent City. It nourished him artistically, fostered his growth as an artist and encouraged him to evolve and thrive. The romance of the city influenced him and invigorated his creative spirit.
“I could have unlimited inspiration from New Orleans,” Nolan explains. “When I first moved down here, I was painting musicians and musically influenced scenes. Then I fell in love the landscape of the neighborhoods.”
It is easy to understand how the various neighborhoods of New Orleans could inspire one creatively. They are a study in contrasts in countless aspects: extreme wealth and extreme poverty coexist on top of one another. Where there is a powerful religious presence, there is also an atmosphere of decadence and excess. 200-year-old Victorian homes are steps away from the newest Walgreen’s. One might say the lines are blurred, or one might say they have been completely erased over time. Either way, the culture is uniquely New Orleans.
The endless contrasts captivated Nolan, particularly in the way that New Orleans seems to be in a constant battle with nature. The elements take their toll quickly in the city, and not just in hurricane season. In the blink of an eye, humidity erodes even the most solid construction and uncontrollable vegetation swallows up any surface that stands still long enough. Nolan became fascinated with the landscape, but he did not focus on the deterioration of the architecture or cultural clashes. He saw the forces of man and nature as matching wits, colliding textures and colors competing with time. Where he saw the destruction, he also saw beauty.
“It always seemed to me that man and nature were constantly at odds in New Orleans,” says Nolan. “They were either battling with each other or dancing with one another. The juxtaposition always stood out to me, particularly in the neighborhood landscapes.”
The struggle between man and nature is a battle as old as time and will continue as long as civilization exists. Nolan realized that he likely recognized the role of nature within the city because of the relationship he formed with nature in his hometown.
“Growing up in Monroe, I was a hunter, so nature was a part of my childhood. I’ve always been aware of that,” he explains. “Being in NOLA made more aware of nature and man’s relationship to it.”
His perspective on the subject provided inspiration for many representational paintings of landscapes throughout the city. His brush strokes were intentional, but loose and easy, echoing the relaxed character of the city. Slowly, his work began to evolve and his focus shifted to the more abstract elements contained within.
He began to notice the more organic aspects of the buildings, the way shadows and light changed existing shapes and added perspective. As he contemplated what he saw, elements seemed to deconstruct themselves before his very eyes. He took these impressions and expressed them on to his canvas. The results were striking works of abstract art.
Nolan’s abstract works continue to evolve as his style develops, but each canvas is more intriguing than the next. Admirers of his artwork often wonder about the inspiration behind the canvas, but Nolan closely guards this sort of insight. He would rather allow the viewer to form their own associations with the artwork and forge a meaningful connection with the images. He enjoys the idea that people have strong reactions to his work and that each impression is uniquely individual.
His own impressions of his artwork are also personal and emotional. The artist juggles several canvases at once, each in a different stage of development. He shuffles between paintings, often finding the “missing element” to one canvas while working on another. He shares that he is often at emotional extremes while wrestling with a painting.
“I’ll love it, hate it, cuss it, go to bed, wake up and hate it again until I love it…it’s a constant rotation,” he says with an infectious laugh. “Paintings are something of an emotional investment for me.”
When he is not creating remarkable works of art, Nolan is acting as Art Director for the Neal Auction Company. Neal is one of the largest art auction companies in the South, and Nolan’s role their is ever increasing. However, he is committed to balancing his work with his passion for painting.
As Nolan’s artistic career continues, so will his success. His talents are impressive, and his earnest desire to cultivate his skills is inspiring. As an artist, it is likely that he will go on evolving at the pace that he says his paintings do–“everything in its own time.”