View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Playframe is one of twenty works produced by contemporary artists for the Cubitt Print Box in 2000. Cubitt is an artist-run gallery and studio complex in north London. In 2001 the complex moved from King’s Cross to Islington and the prints were commissioned as part of a drive to raise funds to help finance the move, and to support future exhibitions and events at the new gallery space. All the artists who contributed to the project had previously taken part in Cubitt’s programme. The portfolio was produced in an edition of 100 with twenty artists’ proofs; Tate’s copy is number sixty-six in the series.
Noble’s lithograph depicts an elaborate children’s climbing frame. Rendered in meticulous lines with realistic shadow effects, the play frame stands alone against a grisaille background. A shallow square plinth supports the bulk of the frame which consists of a series of circular forms made of what appears to be metal tubing supported by long metal rods. Towards the base buttresses reinforced with ladder-like steps anchor and support the frame. Just above its midpoint the frame extends outwards into two parallel squares. Wire mesh covers most of the area of these squares, providing a surface on which to sit or stand. Only the round central portion remains uncovered; this would allow an intrepid imaginary climber to venture further up to the top of the frame where a dome-like shape is topped with a small open sphere.
Noble is best known as a draughtsman and Playframe is typical of his precise, linear style. Since the mid-1990s Noble has been working on a series of large-scale drawings of Nobson Newtown, an imaginary metropolis whose buildings are formed in the shape of a three-dimensional font designed by the artist. For instance, a series of derelict row houses spell out the word ‘Nobslum’ (Nobslum, 1996, Maureen Paley/Interim Art) while the fenced-off multi-storey home of the fictional architect responsible for the town’s planning is created from modules forming the words ‘Paul Palace’ (Paul’s Palace, 1996, private collection).
After experimenting with abstract painting in art school Noble made a conscious decision to make figurative images that would be accessible to a broad audience. His work’s implicit radical political agenda is echoed in his desire to appeal to a non-specialist audience. The climbing frame in this print is rendered using the same technical device of oblique projection Noble uses in his large-scale drawings. Oblique projection is a simple way of rendering three-dimensional objects on paper and is familiar to anyone who has drawn a cube by extending lines at a 45 degree angle from three corners of a square and then delineating the back of the cube by joining the projected lines. Noble uses oblique projection to describe a host of complicated shapes; as Playframe demonstrates, the technique both foreshortens the depicted object and places the viewer in a bird’s-eye position overlooking the scene, creating a sense of distance and detachment.
Laura Hoptman, ‘Drawing Happiness’, Drawing Now: Eight Propositions, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, pp.68-83.
Judith Nesbitt and Jonathan Watkins, eds., Days Like These: Tate Triennial Exhibition of Contemporary British Art 2003, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London, 2003, pp.116-21.
John Slyce, ‘Paul Noble’, Flash Art, vol.34, no.217, March-April 2001, pp.84-5.