Art Noir

Art Noir and its central inspiration Film Noir are artistic titles that describe hard boiled fiction and works of art and drama. They combine a dark and romantic aesthetic style that has roots in German expressionist cinematography with cynical and corrupt attitudes, and tragically passionate storylines. Most notably in film, but also in art, the term has become synonymous with detective fiction, as well as thrillers and depictions of the femme fatale and her alluring power over male anti-heroes. Much of these works of art derive from the school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression, bringing forth legendary writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  

Art Noir painting The Reporter by Theo Michael

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler was a novelist that became a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive in the Great Depression. His first novel is considered a definitive noir classic, The Big Sleep, and was made into a Hollywood Film Noir by Howard Hawks, starring Humphrey Bogart, as the detective Phillip Marlowe, and Lauren Bacall, as the femme fatale Vivian Rutledge. Roger Ebert wrote of the movie “it is one of the great films noir, a black-and-white symphony that exactly reproduces Chandler's ability, on the page, to find a tone of voice that keeps its distance, and yet is wry and humorous and cares.” 

Raymond Chandler hardback edition published in 1977 Heinemann, Octopus

Chandler went on to write the novels Farewell My Lovely, The Little Sister, and The Long Goodbye. The Long Goodbye especially is considered to be a masterpiece. Chandler in a letter to a friend called the novel “my best book.” This novel and its various film adaptations went on to inspire a generation of noir artists, including Theo, who titled one of his paintings after the book. 

 Dashiell Hammett was an American author of detective novels and short stories. He created the famous detective character, Sam Spade, in The Maltese Falcon, who like Phillip Marlowe was also played by Humphrey Bogart in the film adaptation. Hammett is widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time. The New York Times described him as “the dean of the hard boiled school of detective fiction.” He also wrote Red Harvest, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man, all regarded as definitive and inspirational examples of noir detective fiction.  

Film Noir

Film noir is notorious for its portrayal of women of questionable virtue. These Femmes fatales were women who couldn’t be trusted and yet you couldn’t help but trust them, such was the power of their sexuality and allure. Double Indemnity directed by Billy Wilder, is credited as the dawn of the era of the femme fatale. A slew of renowned noir “bad girls” followed, Rita Hayworth in Gilda, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Jane Greer in Out Of The Past.   

Noir Art by Theo Michael 

Many of Theo’s paintings speak to his affection for the genre and its visual motifs. His painting The Long Goodbye and its central character, echoes the protagonist of the novel, Phillip Marlowe. Here our anti-hero carries with him a bunch of roses which express the tragic romance synonymous with the noir genre. He walks in step with four other men, but unlike the others he doesn’t have an umbrella to stop the rain falling upon him. This metaphor leaves the viewer to imagine the drama that surrounds the man, as well as the woman that has enraptured his being.
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Film Noir style painting by Theo Michael titled The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye, oil painting by Theo Michael July 2019

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In Theo’s painting Femme Noir the femme fatale of noir is captured for all to see.

She is a classic picture, contrasted by modernity, driving in a contemporary car while nonchalantly resting her arm as if she hadn’t a care in the world. The almost perfect painting leaves the viewer to wonder about the contrasting wreckage she has left in her male suitors’ broken hearts and bankrupt bank accounts. The painting is exquisite in its detail of her delicate glove and the overcast trees reflected in the car window.

Noir Art painting Femme Noir by Theo Michael an oil painting from 2017

Femme Noir

Femme Noir, oil painting by Theo Michael 2017

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By contrast Meet Johnnie Walker captures the Art Noir male anti-hero,

and the prevalent role that is played by alcohol and cigarettes in the Noir genre, defining the struggle of many men with their vices and personal corruption. Here the main character plays a game of backgammon, exuding bravado, but the prominence of the bottle of whiskey is almost a contradiction that speaks to the inherent frailty of this confident character. 

acrylic painting of a backgammon player titled Meet Johnnie Walker by Theo Michael

Meet Johnnie Walker

Meet Johnnie Walker painting by Theo Michael 2016

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Blowing In The Wind features a flip on the Film Noir genre

with a female subject dressed as a male counterpart in a suit, hat and tie. A cat walks beside her in lockstep and behind her traffic is whooshing towards her and yet we feel confident in her safety. The truly feminine part of her nature can be viewed if we look closely enough and see her beautiful high heels walking in the damp asphalt. Faceless mannequins watch on from a local storefront and newspapers flutter across the scene seamlessly in the breeze.

Noir Art painting by Theo Michael titled Blowing In The Wind created in 2010

Blowing In The Wind

Blowing In The Wind oil painting by Theo Michael April 2010

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The Boardwalk is a painting that speaks to the mystery of noir fiction.

What the two male characters are discussing amongst themselves as they wander down the beautiful pier we can only imagine. They are clearly trying to keep their conversation as private as possible. Are they plotting some form of treachery? Are they discussing a woman? The answer, even left to the viewer’s imagination, has a weight to it
inspired by the relaxed posture of the subjects. It’s this kind of stylistic mystery that defines noir in all of its manifestations.

Film Noir style painting The Boardwalk by Theo Michael

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk, oil painting by Theo Michael created 2008

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Finally, Theo’s painting Romance Isn’t Dead

 is a prequel to The Long Goodbye, where our anti-hero Phillip Marlowe emerges still carrying his bunch of roses.
Now the rain has surrounded him and the walkway is covered in the downpour. The imagery speaks to his almost magical charisma as he walks on water. We wonder who will be the recipient of the roses, and where she is waiting for him, at home, or sitting at a bar. We embrace his passion and romance even though we fear it will inevitably end in heartbreak.

Art Noir painting Romance Isn't Dead by Theo Michael

Romance Isn't Dead

Romance Isn't Dead, oil painting by Theo Michael June 2013

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Art Noir is a genre and artistic style to lose yourself in,

as you traverse the novels, imagery, and movies in noir you will see the inspirations for many mainstream works of art that you are familiar with such is the extent of its influence. 

Film Noir, essentially pessimistic?

Film noir is often described as essentially pessimistic, but it is in the suffering and tragedy of our vices and corruption that we discern something truly human. Noir’s characters are flawed and broken and this compels and inspires us. They are braver than we are, and wilder than we are. We admire them and are moved by them, and we hope that we are a little bit like them at our best and at our worst. Theo’s noir paintings speak to this inherent passion we have for the darker side of romance. They ask us to imagine a world that scares us, but also exhilarates us.

As Raymond Chandler once said, "Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism."

Author Marc Michael, January 12th 2022