Professor ERIC MOTTRAM:
Notes for CALDERDALE LANDSCAPES exhibition at ANGELA FLOWERS GALLERY, London 1987
Jeff Nuttall's new CaIder Valley paintings recreate that northern vitality as Kokoschka transformed his Alpine, Scottish and Cornish landscapes. He is the major - perhaps the only - British painter to develop fully an expressionist vision, and he has the technique to do so. His past work, clearly initiated in expressive transformations of the human body by Picasso and of landscape by Sutherland, already demonstrates a career of sustained exuberance and skill through black and white drawing, water colour, collage and multi-media methods. An exhibition not long ago at this gallery showed that he had reinvented the art of ceramic sculpture, just as his assemblages reconstituted traditions of objets trouvés and collage sculptures.
In his work-room at Todmorden, these blazing or sombrely radiant canvasses shone out in front of the steep rainy valley hillsides and the railway cuttings and viaduct through the windows. The vitality of the East Lancashire landscape energizes line and volume, and Nuttall's enthusiasm gives it a vital colour we associate with the more risking Impressionists. Mostly without horizons, the paintings tilt perspectives and offer the eye aerial overviews barely steadied by their frames. Flows of paint regenerate memories of walking and looking down into hills, valleys and the line to Todmorden itself: scenes not depicted but expressed as appreciation. Each canvas radiates pleasure. And Nuttall's works in every medium have never, to say the least, been puritan or niggling in emotion.
Performance artist, poet, novelist, jazz musician, teacher, theorist, painter and sculptor, Jeff Nuttall is the only all-round genius most of us are likely to meet in our lifetime. And let the sceptic beware: this is no exaggeration. His talents usually control at the limits of human exuberance. His skills are both highly local and deeply embedded in European twentieth-century arts. In a culture exemplified by tepidly isolated skills, greed, pop repetitions and art trivia, Jeff Nuttall's work is bracing and joyful, celebrating another world of values, ones that last.
Professor ERIC MOTTRAM:
Notes for the NUTTALL RETROSPECTIVE at DEAN CLOUGH GALLERY, Halifax 1990
JEFF NUTTALL: THE VARIETY AND SKILLS OF ENERGY
Jeff Nuttall’s forty years of paintings, drawings and sculpture is in itself an extraordinarily fine achievement. But he is also a fine jazz musician (on cornet with several groups), a performance artist (inheriting and developing both the "happening" and improvised mime with sounds), a theorist of the arts in society (The Pleasures of Necessity), a fiction writer (ten volumes, most recently Muscle), a biographer (Frank Randle and Lol Coxhill), an investigator into popular arts (Common Factors and Vulgar Fractions) and the author of two volumes demonstrating Performance Art as well as a fine poet with regularly published volumes since the 1960s. He is an actor (with the People Show and on radio and television to come), and a first-rate teacher of visual and sculptural arts. These achievements always operate at the edge of creative danger, in a spirit of adventure against securities. His genius takes risks through a range of sound trained techniques, placed at the disposal of both local (Yorkshire and Lancashire) and European inheritances.
His first investigation concerned the medieval church at Kilpeck, a characteristically international monument, full of mystery and a certain erotic consternation - which became an organising inspirational principle in Nuttall’s work. Everything he produces is an exuberant engagement with death and sensuality - a ceramic sculpture fusing the growth and closure of love, a hockey goalie’s helmet-mask with spilled brains fashioned out of pink stuffed cloth, erotic landscapes entitled "Night Burgeoning", cartoons that supercharge the grotesque - in all our lives and in the lives of animals.
Nuttall’s range of vitality is remote from the sly comforts of high and pop cultures in our confused society. He disturbs us as he disturbs himself. We are confronted and excited, and the scale manages to be heroic as well as farcical. His Calder Valley landscapes tilt and soar with a tremendous vitality of drawing and colour - and Nuttall is a major colourist. His Portuguese paintings vibrate with signs for wave and spray on those stoney shores - and again often with a transformatory viewpoint from above. Their surfaces are wrought with expressionist paint in strong inventive colour designs - so are those of the sectional, strip-cartoon based recent works in 1989-1990.
But he has also excelled, throughout his career, in black ink drawing, in watercolours - often composed on the move - and in multi-media compositions.
Here, then is a retrospective of an artist who has delighted, disturbed and surprised us for over forty years, and continues to invent and to forge through his own boundaries and ours.