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Differently abled artist Noah Erenberg displays new paintings at Big Sky Café through August 

Noah Erenberg's studio is scattered with paintings. They're hanging on the walls, leaning in stacks against furniture, on an easel ready to paint. There are jars full of brushes, tubes of paint, and palettes to mix paint on. Blank canvas still in plastic awaits new inspiration. This could be any abstract artist's studio, but this one happens to belong to a 50-year-old on the autism spectrum.

click to enlarge LOVERS Energetic brush strokes give many of Erenberg's paintings a kinetic feel. - PHOTOS BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photos By Jayson Mellom
  • LOVERS Energetic brush strokes give many of Erenberg's paintings a kinetic feel.

Noah is shy around strangers, so when he meets me in his studio, he doesn't make eye contact. Via email, his mother, Elena, explained that he's verbal and "can answer not too complicated questions," but it's not easy coaxing answers out of him. He's also prone to nervous laughter when he doesn't know how to respond.

When I asked him how he begins one of his colorful, bold paintings, he says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

Do you start by picking a first color?

"Yeah, yeah."

Do you have a plan before you paint or is it instinctual?

"Yeah, yeah."

Noah works by feel, by starting with a color that leads him to another. He doesn't plan. He lays paintbrush to canvas and goes where it takes him.

I ask what he's feeling when he paints and he laughs.

click to enlarge LOST Erenberg paints by instinct, picking a color to start and letting his painting "come out however it wants." - PHOTOS BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photos By Jayson Mellom
  • LOST Erenberg paints by instinct, picking a color to start and letting his painting "come out however it wants."

"Good! Good-good."

Does he ever feel frustrated or angry when the work isn't going how he expects?

"No."

Noah doesn't remember if he painted as a child but he also doesn't remember ever not painting and drawing. I tell him most kids grow up doing art but around ages 13 or 14, a lot quit because they're frustrated that the horse or car they so badly want to draw doesn't look real enough to satisfy them. I tell him it takes guts to keep painting because most people quit, and he doesn't quit.

click to enlarge SWIRL DESIGN Noah Erenberg finds innovative ways to express himself, sometimes incorporating collage—or in this case, by removing a top layer of paint to reveal an underpainting. - PHOTOS BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photos By Jayson Mellom
  • SWIRL DESIGN Noah Erenberg finds innovative ways to express himself, sometimes incorporating collage—or in this case, by removing a top layer of paint to reveal an underpainting.

I ask how he knows when a painting is finished.

"I just feel it," he says. And when I ask if he ever goes too far and thinks he's ruined a painting, he says, "I don't know yet," which strikes me as both wise and intuitive. Every new painting is a new experience.

Does he have a favorite color?

"I hope so," he says.

What is it?

"Red."

Does he associate emotion with color? People say, "I'm seeing red" when they're mad or they're "green with envy." Does he connect certain emotions to certain colors?

"No. No."

When I ask again about planning an image, he tells me his painting "comes out however it wants."

click to enlarge SHELTER A hatched "roof" and sturdy beige and blue "columns" seem to protect an interior space. - PHOTOS BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photos By Jayson Mellom
  • SHELTER A hatched "roof" and sturdy beige and blue "columns" seem to protect an interior space.

I tell him some songwriters talk about how they're channeling a song, as if it comes to them like a gift out of nowhere and they don't know how they wrote it. It sort of appears. He shakes his head, which I take to mean he doesn't think his paintings come to him that way.

We go to his living room to look at more paintings, and I spy a portrait of Noah. Did he do that?

"Yes."

Did he look at himself in a mirror to paint it or was it painted from memory.

"Memory. Yeah, yeah."

He tells me his favorite animal is a frog, and I ask him if he hopes to sell his paintings or if he just wants people to see them.

"Sell!" he says excitedly.

He also tells me he's inspired by nature and by being in nature.

click to enlarge BOLD AND BRIGHT Abstract paintings by SLO artist Noah Erenberg are on display at Big Sky Café through August. - PHOTOS BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photos By Jayson Mellom
  • BOLD AND BRIGHT Abstract paintings by SLO artist Noah Erenberg are on display at Big Sky Café through August.

Noah is also part of ArtLifting, an organization that "champions artists impacted by homelessness or disabilities through the celebration and sale of their artwork." On his artist's profile on their website (artlifting.com/collections/noah-erenberg), he's quoted as saying, "My favorite colors are red, blue, and pink. I like to paint abstract paintings because I like bright colors and crazy shapes. Abstract painting reminds me of hip-hop music. Abstract means from my head!"

In his profile, he also says, "I feel peaceful and free when painting. Art means everything to me."

One of the support staff who help Noah sticks his head out of the kitchen, and Noah says, "Hey bro, want to go to the beach?"

Inspiration from nature preempts our out-of-his-comfort-zone interview. Morro Bay is calling. Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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