s 2022 came to a close and the new year approached, Noah Bristol was looking out of the large windows of his seventh-story apartment as fireworks exploded over Downtown Reno. He had also been looking to concentrate his artistic practice on a specific focus. As he watched the molten shades bloom and fade mid-atmosphere, he realized what he wanted that focus to be: color.
Almost a year later, Bristol is preparing for his first solo exhibition from this same vantage point, organizing systematized color swatches while the trees that line the Truckee River below warm into oranges and crimsons. His exhibition, Your Reading Rainbow, opens Nov. 5 at the Downtown Reno Library and poses questions about what might be lost when colors that exist in our natural world remain unswatched, unnamed, and maybe unremembered.
Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bristol and his husband moved to Reno in the Spring of 2021 so that Bristol could pursue his career as an artist. “Moving here was a conversation of, like, ‘If I could move anywhere to further that, where would that be?’,” said the artist. “We had been to Burning Man a couple of times, so I knew about The Generator. I figured that there wouldn’t be Burning Man and The Generator without there also being a strong arts community here. And I was correct.”
After a few attempts to commit to a college education, Bristol knew he wanted a career as an artist, but instead took a detour into personal training, a path that seemed more secure. But when he attended Burning Man for the first time at 25, a large work by FoldHaus Collective shifted his perspective. “It was so beautiful, I just broke down in tears,” he said. “It was confronting me with something that I had promised myself I would do. … To be confronted with that and realize I gave up on it … when I came home, I was just like, I gotta honor this.”
Large-scale artworks like the one that confronted him on the Playa were the type of works Bristol had always wanted to make. So when the Downtown Reno Library asked him to show his work on the upstairs gallery wall, he realized he was going to be able to honor that wish.
Your Reading Rainbow is an installation that wonders what our conscious minds may forget by way of color. The site-specific work is composed of over 700 color samples from the color indexes of Crayola and PPG paint company, which have been hung on a grid in the library and punctuated by blank spaces that represent colors not marketed by either company.
To map the swatches, Bristol makes use of the LCH color system. In contrast to the color indexes of paint or crayon companies, this system is based on the visible light spectrum rather than what color someone might like to paint their bathroom. This more complete color system acts as the overarching system of organization for Bristol’s installment, dictating not only where the Crayola and PPG color swatches will go, but also where the blank spaces will hang.
In Your Reading Rainbow, the LCH color system can be understood spatially, with each letter represented as an axis. Luminance, or the measure of a color’s white value, runs on the height axis, with the lightest colors near the ceiling and the darkest near the floor. Hue, which measures color content, runs across the length axis from right to left. Because the artist is working in a two dimensional context, the third axis, chroma, a measure of a color’s saturation, gets a little tricky to represent. If pulled apart into a 3D model, this now-unseen third axis would run width-wise, with the grays in the back, close to the wall and the most saturated colors closer to the front. As of now, this axis is collapsed, with the grays and saturated colors interspersed throughout.
Bristol is interested in the ways that these marketable color systems may unconsciously influence or limit our perception of actually-existing color. “These blank spaces in my compositions are pointing to colors that exist in actuality but not in the color systems of these companies,” he said. “Part of my work is asking, what are you missing out on by not seeing a color that you aren’t seeing?” he said.
When asked whether he intended for Your Reading Rainbow to address issues surrounding LGBTQ pride in libraries, Bristol said “it’s not the focus of this work, but I really am interested in art from all angles… so it’s a totally valid association. I think if my work has any political dimension, it’s really more implied in the sense of getting people to connect more with themselves through an experience of art,” he said. “I have a belief that when people do that, it does good things for them, and it does good things for the people around them.”
Noah Bristol’s exhibition Your Reading Rainbow is on view at the Downtown Reno Library though Jan. 6, with a reception Nov. 5 from 3-5 pm.