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Don't mess with a soprano  

The chaos of passion

t’s 3 a.m., a dark and cold March morning, and I’m getting dressed to go to a chanting circle. 

Me! Why did I say I would? Who could motivate me to even contemplate this?

Noelle Nadeau Khoo, that’s who. When she smiles, you can’t say no. 

COVID hit and I went back to sleep. Hummmmm, (that’s my personal chant for yea).

Noelle is a dynamic whirlwind who is also a wife, a mother, an almost Buddhist nun and painter.

She was born in East Lansing, Mich., to a professor of sociology father and an art therapist mother. She has three brothers. 

Noelle painted for the first time at 3. They soon moved to Canada. At age five, she signed her painting Noelle Picasso.  She set the bar high. At  6, she went to art school with her mom at the Kootenay School of Arts in Nelson, B.C.  

Her first art show was in Calgary when she was seven.

She wasn’t sure whether the dizziness she felt from painting was from the toxicity of the oil paints or from her passion for the medium. She just knows that the smell and feel of the oils got into her veins and has never left.

Chaos started early; she ended up with three different fathers and lots of moves around Western Canada. Art was her constant.

When she reached 20, she spent a decade in exploration. She:

  • Acted (was in three episodes of MacGyver)
  • Did plays
  • Taught ceramics
  • Did art schools — a diploma of Fine Arts from Langara College, a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UBC, continuing classes at Emily Carr)
  • And she began her search for calmness.

Her religious background was varied. Her fathers introduced her to Catholicism, Mormonism, and Judaism. All these influences surely had an impact on her quest to find answers. But not the calmness to balance the chaos that was her art. A five-day silent retreat taught her to meditate. 

Finally, art and her spirituality were in sync. Both parts continued to grow until the point of decision – shaved head, ready to take her vows as a Buddhist nun and a chance meeting set up by a friend … love. 

You know what won out.

Why abstract painting? Why not realism, ceramics, or sculpture? 

A trip to her studio showed me why. Noelle vibrates, literally, with excitement and joy when she speaks about art. She exudes joie de vivre and a wicked laugh then … her studio.

If I hadn't known she was a painter, I would have thought I was in a war zone. White walls were violated with dripping red splashes, dark splots.

Where did this aggression come from? 

She speaks of a growing pressure that isn’t released until the free-flying fractals find their home on the canvas. While painting, she invites the intuitive feeling of being hyper alive, then peace, then blessed calmness.

I step back. Ah! Not a war zone – this is passion.

Passion isn’t always wrapped up in a pretty package with a bow. 

Joseph Kinnebrew, a famous sculpture, artist, painter, author and friend wrote this to me. 

“The world of personal expression in the name of art is particularly difficult and generally unrewarded at least when we are alive. But there is passion … undeniable passion that came in our original package … we arrived with it and simply cannot live without it no matter what.” 

Noelle Nadeau Khoo oozes it as I absorb the cacophony of images around me.

Her passion doesn’t just live on her walls. The melding of her spirituality and art make the very fibre of who she is. She doesn’t just put it on to paint.

As she invites me (does she know what she has just done?) to a day of painting with her.

She jumps up. Takes a funny looking thing off the counter, climbs on a chair and captures a tiny dragon fly that has lost its way. She shows me its luminous colours and then releases it outside while spreading her arms and saying “free” in a lilting pitch.

No stopping her passion there. She has been helping schools find ways of disposing of their paints ethically after class. She is concerned because of the huge amount there is. She cares.

Such freedom in ordinary life. A beautiful little package of passion after all.

Noelle’s art was last seen at Sopa Fine Arts in October 2019.

COVID makes us feel marginalized, but Noelle’s paintings remind me that I am a feeling human in this cosmic soup we call life. https://www.noellekhoo.ca/

Is getting up at three in the morning worth spending time with this artist? You bet.

Check https://www.noellekhoo.ca/; Noellenadeaukhoo_art



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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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