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Art and Science

Meet Denver Artist Noelle Phares, Who’s Finding the Abstract in the West’s Changing Landscapes

Article by Katherine Owen

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Cherry Creek Lifestyle

For many artists, the call to create comes first—the medium and subject matter fall into place later. For Denver artist Noelle Phares, the arrival at a career as an artist took a different path. 

“By the time I decided to become an artist, it wasn't really because I thought, 'I have to be a painter,'” Noelle explains. “It was more a feeling of, ‘God, I love the natural world.’” 

Noelle’s work, which draws on paints, pastels, inks, pencils and sometimes even thread to capture entrancing scenes of nature, meditates on “the ever-encroaching presence of humanity into previously pristine open spaces.” Take for example her piece, “Phantom Limb,” in which she portrays a glacial landscape in Alaska that’s quickly changing due to climate change; the piece began with a palette of warm oranges, pinks, and periwinkle—colors Noelle draws, very technically, from the way “light refracts off of snowy surfaces.” Then, she introduces an abstraction of architecture to reference the human footprint. 

“The periwinkle tones of the piece draw the viewer in, as the glow of a snowy landscape really would. I typically paint about landscapes that are vulnerable, and in this piece, the major negative impact of climate change is glacial melt, so I wanted to symbolize that without painting it too literally,” Noelle explains. “Here, I used a cluster of lines as a nod to the downward flow of melt—they did the job of introducing that symbology while also serving as an interesting design feature that contrasts with the organic shapes of the mountains. I like to use abstract shapes and features that resemble architectural lines as nods to the human footprint on that landscape, instead of presenting these themes directly. First and foremost, the painting should be beautiful, and secondarily it should invite the viewer to ask deeper questions about what’s really going on with that specific terrain." 

“I tend to use palettes that are rooted in the natural tones of the landscape itself but also draw on the emotion that I want the viewer to feel as they look at the painting,” Noelle continues. “For example when I want the viewer to feel nostalgic, I introduce a lot more haze and atmospheric colors than I would in a painting that I want the viewer to feel like they are in now, in which the colors would probably be bolder and the lines harder.”

Noelle’s abstract but highly analytic approach makes sense with her professional background; she holds an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master's in environmental data science. Before a leap of faith into full-time artistry, she spent 10 years working in tech and thinking about landscapes as geospatial data sets. Throughout that time, painting was something Noelle did for fun but didn’t see as a career path. “I just didn't have anyone in my life who was a working artist,” Noelle explains. “My academic focus was always on the sciences. I wanted to learn about the building blocks of life and those topics demanded my full attention through my twenties. I felt as if I needed to understand how the universe worked before deciding how I would leverage that information in my career later on.” But after a decade, Noelle reports the office atmosphere, computer screens and “abstract techie work” wore on her: “I kind of threw up my hands one day, feeling that this is just not what I am.” 

So she made the leap. Today, her art can be found not just on the walls of galleries and collectors’ homes but on skis, SmartWool socks, Merrell gear, beer cans, wine bottles, and more. For someone like Noelle, who reports an insatiable craving for new–be it food, travel, or art—the product collabs offer the chance to envision different methods and outcomes for her work. 

“There's nothing better than being out skiing and randomly looking down from the lift and seeing someone wearing a pair of skis that I've designed. That's happened twice, so it doesn't happen that much,” Noelle laughs. “But when it did, I thought, 'Dang, that's pretty cool.'” 

Yet still, one of the greatest changes in her art career so far, attests Noelle, has been becoming a parent. She and her husband welcomed a daughter in early 2023, and it opened a whole new set of questions for her to explore in her work. 

“A lot of people told me that having a kid would change my perspective for the better. And I just didn't know how to believe them, because you just don't know what you don't know,” Noelle says. “I wasn't someone who had a strong vision about who I would be as a parent, but luckily those people were right. Having a child has absolutely underscored how important it is to me to make sure that she has clean air to breathe and water to drink. And maybe even mountains that she can go back to where she doesn’t have to hear the sound of a road.” 

To learn more about Noelle, visit her website at or find her on Instagram at @noellephares. Look for her upcoming exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, which opens next June, or catch her work at the 2024 Telluride Mountain Film Festival.