Jim Nutt’s Art Deserves a Closer Look



Jim Nutt’s portray and drawing go completely towards the grain of internationally celebrated postwar American artwork. His independence and the fiercely self-reliant creative ambition that has fueled his work have but to obtain the widespread recognition they’ve lengthy deserved. The hole between what I imagine is Nutt’s accomplishment and the eye he has acquired was on my thoughts after I noticed the exhibition Jim Nutt: Shouldn’t We Be More Careful? at David Nolan Gallery, the artist’s first present of recent work in New York in additional than a decade. Utilizing graphite and paper, Nutt makes drawings that resemble nothing else that I’ve seen.

The exhibition consists of 19 contour drawings of a lady’s head, all in graphite on toothed paper and dated from the final two years (none bigger than 15 by 14 inches). The press launch explains:

Whereas typically in comparison with Ingres or Picasso, Jim’s portraits have focussed on a single determine’s head since 1987. His graphite explorations on paper are principally to seek out simply the fitting portrait that shall be chosen for the subsequent portray. Fortuitously for us, Jim makes numerous drawings till that call is made, after which there are not any extra drawings made until the portray is full. 

Nutt has meticulously pared down his heads as if decided to find simply how few traces he must make a particular picture. The plain affiliation is with the cartoonist whose purpose is to reach at a easy, unmistakable picture, comparable to Mickey Mouse, rendered as minimally as doable. As I marveled on the economic system of Nutt’s traces, and the way each appears to have been made with out hesitation, I used to be unexpectedly reminded of Japanese ink portray. In ink portray, you’ll be able to neither erase nor revise the mark. By selecting an unforgiving floor, comparable to Plexiglas within the early Sixties and toothed paper in these latest drawings, and making irrevocable marks, Nutt enters a territory few American artists have dared to go. On this regard, his portraits share one thing with Jasper Johns’s ink-on-plastic drawings.

Jim Nutt, “Untitled” (2023), graphite on paper, 15 x 14 inches

Nutt began the drawings on view when he turned 80. At all times a fastidious and ingenious artist, he discovered a strategy to demand much more of himself. That is what makes him an amazing artist whose work stays difficult. Having acquired vital acclaim and institutional help, he may have initiated a mode of manufacturing that enabled him to make variations, however he didn’t. It’s a degree of independence that the artwork world isn’t used to celebrating.

Nutt’s portraits appear partially influenced by his familiarity with a variety of portraiture, from Thirteenth-century Italian artwork to early fashionable masters, comparable to Amedeo Modigliani, with out devolving into parody or citation. In two untitled drawings dated 2022 and 2023, the top faces proper and tilts barely downward. The angle echoes Berlinghiero’s “Madonna and Child” (presumably 1230s) within the assortment of the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, certainly one of solely two work which can be verified because the artist’s. One of many placing issues about Berlinghiero’s portray is the Madonna’s androgynous look.

The androgyny we encounter in Nutt’s latest portrait drawings, as famous within the press launch, resonates with our occasions and discussions about gender and identification, however by no means straight feedback on them. One of many points these drawings elevate is how we decide a person’s identification. From the define of the hair to the nostril and eyes, every function is clearly and individually articulated, in order that any notion of symmetry we’d have in regards to the face is totally rejected. Whereas the eyes are carefully associated within the earlier drawing, they’re positioned at totally different angles. Within the later drawing, Nutt attracts two distinct eyes, a semi-circle containing a circle with a dot within the center and a circle with a dot within the center. The eyebrows are additionally utterly totally different from one another. Though the elements match collectively and coalesce right into a portrait, they don’t turn into symmetrical.

The stress between the entire picture and the particular shapes speaks to the multiplicity of identities people adhere to. We’re our many elements and we’re greater than that. There’s nothing eccentric about these masterful, enigmatic drawings. 

Jim Nutt, “Untitled” (2022), graphite on paper, 13 x 13 inches
Jim Nutt, “Untitled” (2022), graphite on paper, 13 x 13 inches

Jim Nutt: Shouldn’t We Be More Careful? continues at David Nolan Gallery (24 East 81st Road, Higher East Facet, Manhattan) by means of October 21. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.


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