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Bespoke Artistry in Houston

Famed Houston philanthropist Lynn Wyatt once said, “Art is the soul of any city.” She may have been speaking about Houston’s prolific museum and theater arts districts, but accessible custom art that is a part of someone’s home or compliments the color pallet of a room is just as important and much more personal. Enter sculptor, modern, and abstract artist Robert Chris Noel who has been filling Houston’s luxury homes with custom art for decades.

Native Houstonian Robert Chris has been drawing and painting for as long as he can remember. One of his earliest memories of creating art was a very detailed bumble bee he drew at the age of 5. Given the opportunity in school, he would sketch on his classwork, and if he needed an easy “A” to boost his GPA, he always relied on art classes. Now one of the most sought-after artists in the southwest, Robert Chris, known to everyone as “RC,” fills his days with not only art but interior design, as well.

His art makes a statement. It is impossible to walk into a room with one of his paintings and not be drawn to it. Heavily textured with color and lines that seem to move within the frame, his art is found in some of the most opulent homes and restaurants in Houston. RC’s background is as colorful as his art. After going to college at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, he raced Formula Two cars in Canada for several years. After a sponsorship deal fell through, he eventually settled back into painting, designing, and family life. RC has been painting for more than four decades, with no thoughts of slowing down.

“I can’t sit still – I’m not someone who can sit around. I have been painting for 40 years now, and my style is constantly evolving. I paint about 150 pieces per year,” said RC.

If his last name sounds familiar, it is probably because it is. For 42 years, the Noel family has reigned supreme with their high-end luxury furniture store located in the Upper Kirby area of Houston.

“It is in my blood – I grew up in a furniture store,” said RC. “My father started Noel Furniture 42 years ago, and it is now owned by my brother. There is nothing I don’t know about the furniture business. I can sketch out one of a kind items blindfolded – it’s just what I do. A lot of my work is for Noel furniture because art brings a room together. It’s all about a color or a sofa fabric, and the last thing to go into a room is the art. I really do it all, I can not only design art for a room, but I can design the room itself.”

RC’s studio is also located in the Upper Kirby area, and he is there painting between two and three times per week. The studio is a one-stop-shop where RC frames his art, stretches his canvases, and has stacks of both commissioned and non-commissioned pieces in every corner.  He paints modern art and detailed portrait work, but his specialty and what he is most known for is painting on large sheets of clear acrylic. After being painted, one side of the acrylic is smooth and glossy, while the other is mounted high with heavy texture. He uses acrylic paints, as well as gold and silver leaf to achieve the desired texture and color. RC doesn’t strive for perfection; outlines of paint cans, brushes, and scrapers can be found in his art, but they just add to the overall feel of the painting.

“What is really nice about painting on acrylic is that customers get two pieces of art instead of one. Each side is completely different from the other, so when you get bored of one side, all you have to do is flip the piece around to enjoy the other,” said RC. “I’ve been using this technique for several years, and my customers love it.”

If you visit RC’s studio, he will proudly show off his art, both finished and unfinished, but he will also proudly show off his famous painted shirts, jackets, and even jeans. Stacked, piled, draped, and sometimes on hangers, his studio is filled with painted clothing in different states of completion. What began as a fun way to clean up his paint has turned into his signature style.

“I use white shirts to clean up my mess. Instead of using towels or paper towels, I use shirts. I began wearing my painted shirts, and people loved them, so now I sell them – sometimes people even buy them off my back,” said RC. “It was never my plan to have my painted clothing become my signature, but so many people asked where I got my shirts or jeans that were covered in paint, so I just decided to go with it and make custom painted clothing.”

It is evident after talking with RC for even a few minutes that he is not a trend follower. He focuses on what he likes and what works for his customers instead of following the latest trends in the art world.

“I could give you a line about trends, but I would be lying. My art is all about color and what feels right in a room,” said RC. “You’ll probably never see an artist sweat as I do, but when I get into my studio, I have to put the paint on fast, because acrylic dries so quickly. It is hard work, and when I have been painting for 3-4 hours, I am exhausted and sweaty. It takes me a few hours to recover after a painting session, but it is worth it when I am done.”

Art is in the eye of the beholder, but no one can deny that whether it is through his shirts, paintings, or furniture – RC has added to the soul of Houston.

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