Alexis Nutini at Napoleon

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If you missed Alexis Nutini‘s recent solo exhibition Primordial Ink at the upstart artist-run gallery Napoleon in Philadelphia, then I apologize because this review won’t really do the work justice. The internet is a useful tool for remotely conveying many aesthetic experiences, the dwarfing, somatic response one feels in the face of monumentality is not one of them.

Nutini’s work more than most recent exhibitions in the Napoleon makes smart use of the liliputian space. Exhibiting only two large printed works facing each other, Elemental Pulp (above, left), and Cosmic Drift (above, right), the viewer found themselves immediately enveloped in a near-panoramic landscape of the artist’s design.

The gallery exhibition page describes Nutini’s exhibition as, “an exhibition of jumbo relief monoprints by Alexis Nutini. A rigorous process of carving and layering of oil based ink produce delineated fields of saturated color and swathes of linear marks. Through this ritual and the creation of vast landscapes composed of graphic forms, Nutini explores personal and global concerns of origin and displacement.” And they are not wrong, but let’s unpack the work a bit further.

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Cosmic Drift

Each works is of a monumental scale, comprised of a similar, hot/cool color pallet of, blue, orange, yellow and white, and assembled out of six component prints. Beyond those similarities they both appear to represent a vast liquid (ocean?) landscape. Between the exhibition title and Nutini’s imagery, I was immediately haunted by the words of Mr. Crowl, my 9th grade biology teacher, describing the “hot, thin, soup” from which life sprung forth on planet earth, back in the day.

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The effect of the 6 panel grid serves as a nice foil for the artist’s maximal intensity.

Between the overlapping systems of description, and the radical color shifts, a viewers field of vision quickly moves between the impression of an overall ‘image’, and the evidence of how it was made. Employing tight linear layers, cross-hatched marks, and weird, interlocking abstract shapes, Nutini has built an aesthetic trap that draws you in and keeps you trolling the surface. At about the moment you feel that you eyes might pop-out of your head, you drift up to the placid ‘sky’, and the whole process starts over again.

Nutini is clearly have fun. He seems to be adeptly sharing his talent for formal abstraction. With so many relief prints by young artists dominated by vernacular, and low-brow imagery, this show is a breadth of fresh air. It brings to mind another artist in the Napoleon stable of member-artists, Christopher Hartshorne; although beyond their broad shared interest in large-scale abstract woodblock prints, their conceits quickly diverge. Between the scale, colors, and confident gesture, Clifford Still seems the obvious aesthetic guide for Nutini’s wild explorations borderlands between landscape and abstraction.

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It’s also worth noting that Cosmic Drift (above) is seamlessly mounted on a wood panel. The effect is clean, and also serves to make it’s process a bit more vague, I could easily imagine an uninformed viewer mistaking the work for a painting. Since only one work in the show is presented this way, this choice seems clearly intentional. I would hazard a guess that Nutini is putting his work in conversation with a certain kind of large abstract painting; and perhaps he’s also dropping the gauntlet just a little bit. This idea of occupying ‘painting space’ on the wall goes back decades, but for any artist with a aesthetic need to make big prints, there is really no way around facing it down sooner or later.

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Napoleon commissions a corresponding essay for each exhibition, a refreshing notion in an age that seems to place so little value anything longer than 140 characters. For Nutini’s exhibition the multi-disciplinary artist and curator, Sophie Sanders’s contributed an exhibition essay. The following is an excerpt, read Sander’s whole text here.

“Nutini’s prints reveal something beyond the recognition of our global reality- his works convey invented worlds that link individuals across place and time. He presents a vision of organic growth, a scene that is blossoming and sprouting into being. It may be coincidental that he is soon to become a father, but certainly his imagery expresses a deep respect for the interconnectedness of life and a spiritual awareness. These prints suggest the awe-inspiring power of nature, filled with vibrating patterns of stripes and swirls and volcanic colors.”

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Elemental Pulp if anything is even more roiling than Cosmic Drift, this is primarily a function of color and composition. The print is dominated by a bold yellow, and there is the faintest sense that something is rising or forming out of the liquid. The decision to leave this print on paper (un-mounted) with borders intact was a good one, the visual white lines of the paper creates an interesting interplay between surface and mark and image within the work.

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We look forward to seeing more bold work from this philadelphia-based artist.

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Categories: Exhibitions


One Response to “Alexis Nutini at Napoleon”

  1. jeff shapiro says:

    Very good review of show I’m sorry to have missed.

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