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Theatre, Music, etc.


February 1, 2008

Guiding the imagination

Landscapes, abstracts, and a blend of the two

Cleveland--The reimagining of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood as a vital arts district is well underway.

“Mark Nutt: Recent Paintings,” which opened on January 19 at Tregoning and Co. Gallery at 1300 West 78th, and Judith Brandon’s “Black and Blue,” opening February 1 at 1point618 Gallery at 6421 Detroit Ave., could very well be the poster children for that rebirth, bringing finely crafted works by two queer artists to very different spaces.

As different as those spaces are, the works are every bit as eclectic.

Nutt, who started his artistic career with sculpture and painting for the theater, began fine art painting just over two years ago. The Maine artist’s work, however, expresses spirituality and insight that grew for years before finding this particular outlet.

For his first solo show in the Midwest, he selected an array of works that illustrate a dichotomy, bringing both abstract and realist paintings. Landscapes rub shoulders with daring splashes of color plastered over garnet paste and nails embedded in canvas.

His landscapes have a sense of orthodoxy to them, a certain feeling that, “Here is a tree, a tree is what has been painted.”

However, as the viewer continues to look at the work, smaller details begin to emerge. Yes, there is a tree, but what are those little points of red on the ground? Is that a dusting of flowers over on the side?

Those landscapes are painted en plein air, outside using natural light, capturing what he sees before him.

The abstracts, however, capture the light within him.


“Mentally, it’s a very different process,” he said. “I lay out all the colors on my palette, even ones that don’t necessarily belong.”

“I go with what I feel, so I gravitate to certain colors,” he continued. “That allows me to some degree to think outside the box. If you limit yourself to blues and greens because that’s what you’re painting, you lose the reds and purples you might not see at first.”

There are some color combinations that one would not normally expect, that intellectually seem to clash--purple and green, blue and orange.

However, on the canvases, they flow effortlessly together, creating a phantasmagoria of colors in which fleeting shapes can be seen--faces, forms, creatures soaring and plummeting. Which is not to say they actually exist; more likely, when confronted with seemingly random shapes, the mind supplies them with meaning. It follows the precept of beauty being in the eye of the beholder; apparently, so is meaning.

This dichotomy of realism and abstract, landscape and mindscape, are enmeshed in each of Judith Brandon’s pieces, all of which are surreal landscapes created by the flow of water and dye over distressed paper.

While she can create waves so dynamic one almost expects them to move, clouds so pendulous and menacing that a sudden lightning bolt flickering through the frame would be no surprise, moons so full one can feel the tidal pull in the veins, much of her art seems to just happen.

Scoring paper and allowing the dyes to follow the lines, bleeding out into grain of the paper, creates trees on a lakefront.

It’s an effortless example of forced recognition; while in Nutt’s work, the brain creates images out of chaos, in Brandon’s work, she nudges the grey cells in the right direction. This amorphous blob? A tree. That one? Smoke rising from an Atlantean building sinking into the ocean.

One dark shape immediately brings to mind the onion domes of Moscow, a nod to Brandon’s tenure in the Tremont neighborhood with its Russian Orthodox church always peering through the gaps between other buildings. Above it, a milky miasma swirls through the night sky, lightening the azure and violet hues. Without glancing at the picture’s title, it’s evident that she has captured the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights.

In her “Cuyahoga Valley Wetland Study,” there is a literalism that belies the surrealism of the piece. Again, it is immediately apparent what one is looking at, but at the same time, none of it is really there, just streaks of color.

Entwined throughout the reeds, grasses and water are circles, an ever-present element of her work.

Brandon said that the first thing she does with her paper is to make the ring “to remind me of the planet,” of the “layers of the universe.”

She says that, in creating the pieces, she comes to the realization, “Oh my God, we’re only this tiny speck in the universe.”

Her tiny speck, however, reflects the majesty of the greater sphere, and at times she seems to channel the energy.

“The best days in the studio are when you’re just an instrument,” she said. “The worst are when you really work at it.”

Nutt expressed a similar idea in explaining the genesis of his surrealist paintings. He said that he has to paint, to get the energy inside of him out.

Regardless of where their energies come from or what they’re doing, putting aside the methods and the media, these are two shows that should reinforce Detroit Shoreway and Cleveland itself as being on the artistic map.

“Mark Nutt: Recent Paintings” stays through February at Tregoning and Company Gallery, 1300 West 78th Street. For more information, call 216-2818626 or go to

“Judith Brandon: Black and Blue” opens with an artist’s reception at 7 pm on February 1 and continues through March 30 at 1point618 Gallery, 6421 Detroit Ave. The gallery can be reached at 216-2811618 or online at




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