Many threads have been woven into the tapestry which describe Noel’s life, but central to them all is his search to better understand our relationship with the earth, and to share these stories through paintings, sculptures and words, which are brought together into the art of storytelling. His books, guided outdoor encounters and talks offer unique experiences that seek to help us to re-connect with the world around us, and along the way to re-discover forgotten aspects of ourselves.
The great, great grandson of well-known Cape artist Wilhelm Langschmidt, whose paintings are held in the William Fehr Collection at the Castle of Good Hope, Noel’s life has been dictated by his need to forge his very personal journey, seeking his inner voice and then sharing it through his artworks and writings. He has known the frustrations of the seeker, grappling with not only his creative response to the world, but also wishing to better understand the human paradigm. These have been given expression through his creativity, working in most mediums, ranging from etching, through to painting and sculpting. It is by synthesizing these different dimensions of his creative being, that he is able to share his story through exhibitions, books, environmental programmes, and a range of talks and Audio Visual presentations.
“Meeting artist-sculptor Noel Ashton in his studio is a humbling experience. This is a place where sculptures breathe and paintings move. This is a place where art has been taken so seriously that it becomes something complex, something anatomically precise, something real.” (Janis Theron)
After graduating in Environmental & Geographical Science from the University of Cape Town, Noel pursued his passion for the marine environment and spent over twenty years developing a complex process of morphologically mapping the world’s whales and dolphins, enabling him to create highly accurate scientific illustrations of each species. Much of this came out of working alongside the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute under the guidance of Dr Peter Best and the Whale Research Unit at the Iziko South African Museum. Apart from the use of his illustrations within the scientific community, including a special report on Heaviside’s dolphins for the International Whaling Commission; his work has been used extensively within marine conservation, natural history publications, signage boards, information brochures and leaflets. He illustrated the MTN humpback whale and bottlenose dolphin signage boards as well as the IFAW Whale Walk and Benguela Boards, and has published a series of books on marine subjects including ‘Watching whales and dolphins’ which was published by Random House Struik. He also consults for the film industry and was the scientific consultant for Warner Bros in the creation of Free Willy 4.
Building on his extensive research into understanding how anatomy and form dictate movement for the artist, Noel began an in-depth journey into better understanding the horse. Few animals evoke such a sense of grace and power as horses, and Noel was drawn to them as a way to further explore his love of sculpture. Horses are of course very different to whales on which he developed his anatomical research, leading to him moving his studio to the country town of Greyton to spend time and study horses. This creative year formed the foundation for a whole new body of work, ranging from a folio of anatomical studies to a new series of evocative bronzes.
One is never too old to learn, and when Noel was offered a scholarship to attend the Business Acumen for Artists programme at the Graduate School of Business, he not only attended and completed this course, but was invited back the following year to present his applications to the new students. His insights and experience of programme innovation have been moulded over many years, and he is often sought out to assist other creative people tackling the issue of molding a creative career in the modern competitive world.
The enquiring mind cannot stand still, and this has taken Noel into many places of journey and discovery. His interest in the landscape, in wilderness and its’ language in the soul, and a particular fascination with the San Bushmen and their rock art has resulted in numerous excursions and research trips to the Cederberg and other areas where these are found, as well as destinations which answer to his creative journey of painting and sculpting. Out of these experiences new stories are always forming, and with each journey Noel has deepened his interest and understanding of the world which he encounters, giving birth to talks and presentations on a wide range of subjects.
Africa is the birthplace of many great storytellers, and Noel’s gift of sharing stories is well known. A diploma in Public Speaking from Trinity College London whilst still at school created a sound understanding of sharing stories and engaging audiences, and he is often invited to present public talks, appear on radio and television, and is represented on the national speaking circuit. He has been described as an artist with a poetic soul, offering him a unique way of synthesizing his life experiences in presentations which take his audiences into worlds and places seldom encountered.
Born in 1963 in Cape Town.
Matriculated Kingswood College, Grahamstown.
Diploma in Public Speaking from Trinity College London.
Graduated in Environmental & Geographical Science, University of Cape Town (1987).
Scholarship to Graduate School of Business - Business Acumen for Artists (2010).
His book The Whales of Walker Bay became a local bestseller.
His Windows on the Oceans exhibition in the Two Oceans Aquarium was opened in 2003 by Jonathan Oppenheimer.
His anti-whaling sculpture Sacred Ocean was launched in 2008 by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in the Two Oceans Aquarium.
His acclaimed Whale Show is shown daily in the Hermanus Whale Museum and the Iziko South African Museum.
His IFAW Whale Walk is a prominent feature in Hermanus and his Benguela Boards feature in coastal towns along the west coast.
He has appeared extensively on television and radio, with a special feature on Top Billing.
He consults for the film industry and was the scientific consultant for Warner Bros in the creation of Free Willy 4.
He was a member of the Moby Dick International Whale Research Team and founded the first Enviro Expo of the Hermanus Whale Festival.
He was chairman of The Zandvlei Trust and Scarborough Conservation Group; and a committee member of the Cape Bird Club.
His latest book Watching whales and dolphins in southern Africa was published in 2012 by Random House Struik, with a foreword by zoologist Mark Carwardine.
His most recent wildlife exhibition A Year in Nature was launched at the Cape Gallery in 2012 by Peter Borchert and Michaela Strachan.
Noel and Belinda’s initiative Mapungubwe Revisited, in partnership with WWF-SA, has to date raised over R500,000.00 for WWF’s rhino conservation work.