By Godfrey Lee
Rev. Dr. James Noel spoke in Marin City recently at the opening reception of his exhibit, “The Rhythm Of My People – Blackness In Three Moods,” sharing his reflections about his work as a painter.
Rev. Noel, a minister of New Liberation Presbyterian Church in San Francisco and professor at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, discussed how his faith, activism, and identity have come to be expressed in his paintings.
The reception was Saturday, March 9 at the Hannah Gallery in Marin City.
Entertainment included the Jerome Clay Ensemble, with Jerome Clay on keyboard, Ed Serrano on drums and Phil Organo on bass guitar. The group was accompanied the New Liberation Gospel Choir, with Cathy Campbell, Jonetta Holmes, Trenell Mason, Chris Grant, and Kaiya Noel. Also performing were Florence Williams, magician Hollywood St. James and Deborah Thomson.
Noel had met Betty Hodges, director of the Hannah Gallery and the Freedom Schools, in 1967 while they were both attending UC Berkeley. At the time, they talked about educational opportunity.
In 1976, Noel met Hodges again when he became the pastor of St Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City. In 1979, Noel founded the Marin City Community Development Corporation and served as its first president.
Noel and Hodges still have a vision of helping youth in Marin City achieve higher education. Noel believes that a connection must be made between the church, the community and university. The gap has to be bridged between religious culture and secular culture, so the whole community walks and works together.
Noel paints in order to create and communicate images “without having to say what it means.” He tries to communicate the mood, feelings, history, and experience of people who were oppressed and had ugliness and fragmentation imposed on their lives.
In the midst of degradation, they pulled themselves together, held onto their humanity and created something beautiful and positive.
Noel captures the beauty of a people who refuse to be defined, shaped or conditioned by ugliness. It is their spirit, love and creativity that Noel tries to depict in his images.
“We can paint a picture that allows us to imagine a world where people are not sent off to war, where we’re not killing each other, where there are no drive-by shootings, where there are no homeless people, where all God’s children can sit at the welcome table,” he said.
“You cannot go into the world focusing on justice if you don’t also have a perception and sensibility about the beauty of God’s creation,” he added. “It is yourself that is beautiful, and there is no need to see beauty anywhere else.”