Archive for February 22nd, 2012

I wrote last week about the work of the Chicago-based artist Roger Brown, who was part of the Chicago Imagists which were a group of artists who were inspired by the pop imagery of comic books as well as surrealism.  Another artist who was in this circle was Jim Nutt, born in 1938 in Massachusetts and educated at a variety of universities including the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met his wife, artist Gladys Nilsson.  He has lived and painted in the Chicago area since the 1960’s.

Nutt’s early work in the 60’s and 70’s was very much in the comic book/pop art style with bold, flat colors that were often harshly contrasting and fantastic imagery bordering on the bizarre, as can be seen here in the image to the left.  It’s strong, exciting  work but for me the more interesting part of Nutt’s career has been his obsessive, repeated painting of a single imaginary female portrait over the past twenty-five years.  He spends nearly a year neticulously painting  each of these portraits of a woman with a hairdo that evokes the 1940’s and a most unusual large nose that is typically colored in direct contrast to the rest of the woman’s face.  He paints these works in thin acrylic paint with tiny brushes which accounts for the long time frame for each piece.  The resulting work, as a result of this technique, is meant to be seen up close where they reveal their refined surfaces and subtle tones, revealing beauty that belies the sometimes grotesque appearance of the image from afar.

I am always drawn to the artist who repeatedly revisits a form, finding something new in each new foray.  This subject of Nutt’s may be the same image he sees in his mind but each piece is decidedly different  in presentation and feel.  And, while I feel his early work is interesting and distinctive, it is this obsession that has held Nutt for the past 25 years that defines Nutt for me.

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