In 2016, Chicago artist Connie Noyes’ husband and father died within 10 days of each other.

Connie Noyes Credit: Connie Noyes

Her exhibit in 2022, we are built in water in the second floor gallery of the Evanston Art Center, 1717 Central St., was a meditation on grief and mourning. The exhibit ended Dec. 18.

Noyes is a multidisciplinary artist. Her master of fine arts degree is from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her master of arts degree is in psychology and art therapy from Notre Dame de Namur University, a private Catholic university in Belmont, Calif.

She and Tricia Van Eck, former curator with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and founder of 6018 North (an experimental art gallery), held an open conversation about Noyes’ art work Dec. 11 as part of the Art Center’s In Focus Lecture series.

In the six years since those traumatic deaths, Noyes has studied Butoh, the “dance of darkness,” which is Japanese in origin. She also became a student of mindfulness meditation and a licensed psychotherapist, trained as a death doula and Grief Recovery Specialist. 

Formerly an abstract painter, grief compelled Noyes to change direction, so she began to create small meditation pieces. She also started wrapping chairs, over and over, with white elastic thread, letting the chairs symbolize the body, trying to “make them disappear” into white. The repetitive wrapping became a moving meditation, the chairs now hanging in the EAC gallery.

A video she created “by accident” of a huge white plastic bag blown about on a pale beach is the “heartbeat” of the exhibit, Noyes said. “It’s about impermanence and our inability to control things – a reminder to stay in the moment.”

Noyes said she feels that people in this culture don’t acknowledge grief, don’t talk about underlying emotions, always answering “I’m fine” when asked. She wishes for a national conversation about grief and mourning. And for rituals that better acknowledge grief and offer comfort.

She looks upon the ocean as the collection of humanity’s tears, acknowledging it also as the source of life – thus the exhibition title “we are built from water.”

A collection of poems, small paintings with ash and gold thread, and a table set with sparkling, dying flora from the ocean make up the rest of the objects in this strange and beautiful exhibition.

Gay Riseborough

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.

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