Growing up in the brush country between the Gulf Coast and the border, Noe Perez began a quest to capture the austere, beautiful landscape in the gaps between human impact. Perez, the son of a cowboy in Falfurrias, would often follow his father out into the field to watch him at work among the oak trees, mosquitoes and cacti. “Those things have become my main subject,” Perez said. “It’s that kind of nostalgic feeling I’ve been around since I was a kid.” This sense of familiarity and closeness to the landscape is ripe in the smallest detail and corner of each painting.
“Most of my work is pure landscape without the presence of man,” Perez said. “That’s hard to find. I have always wrestled with how much of that human element I want to show.” In his work, the man-made elements featured are often old or worn down amid nature, reflecting his perception that although these structures are here now, they are temporary. “Eventually, it all goes back to the land.” An admirer of the American Impressionist movement and early Texas painters, Perez draws similarities between the near-photographic qualities of his work and those of impressionists who seek to portray their subjects close to real life. The attempt to replicate the feeling of looking at subjects as they exist in nature — the precise moment of sun setting over a country road and the shadows cast by trees, cacti, cattle — drives Perez in each of his works.
“People are drawn to subjects, but I also hope people notice the details. Like the brushwork I used here or the light and the use of color there,” he said. While the precision and scrupulous nature of capturing subjects in such a way might intimidate some artists, to Perez it is an undertaking scored with the hope of highlighting nature’s small but profound beauties.
Forty years as an engineer by profession informs some of the exacting practices behind his work, which require considerable trial and error with the mercurial nature of oil paint. “I take a lot of photographs. If I have time, I’ll do some plein air work,” Perez said of the preparation stage for his paintings, most of which take 60 to 80 hours of work to complete.
To Perez, painting as a tactile process — pushing colors around a palette or applying them to the canvas with a palette knife or brush — contains an allure that draws painters in. “They say the process is the best part of painting; that the journey is often better than getting there,” Perez said. “In a lot of ways, I tend to agree with that.”
As a retired engineer who sold paintings and showed in galleries in his spare time, Perez cites late nights painting at the kitchen table with the hum of his family moving around him as some of his favorite memories in over four decades of his craft. “I’ve never had a separate studio because I want to be present,” Perez explained. “I have three daughters. They know what I’m doing and they’ll walk into my studio to say ‘Dinner’s ready’ or ‘I’m going to bed.’ Invariably, now and then out of the blue, they’ll say ‘Oh, I really like that.’ I like them to see this process and to see what I’m doing.”
Perez’s work can be found in the recent publication King Ranch: A Legacy in Art, which contains over 40 of his commissioned paintings, all of which live in the various houses and camp buildings on the King Ranch. His work will also show in the Spring of 2024 at the Art Museum of South Texas, where his landscapes will soon join its permanent collection.