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Mid Pennine Arts
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Jeff Nuttall

nuttall1A Catalogue Note from the 1960s:

All my paintings are religious.  I believe the face of God is visible in nature.  I paint landscape in such a way as to emphasize the God in it.

The presence of God is strongest in those potent shapes and colours which our warped society holds to be obscene.  Society calls it obscene and shuns it in order to protect itself from the truth.

Society has no stomach for God.  It requires only titillation and decoration. It won’t get it from me.

The presence of God makes a lot of different things mean the same to me.

The human body is only landscape turned mobile.  Conical hill – phallus – kneecap, what’s the difference? High ridge – raised thigh and so on.

This is what my pictures are made of.

nuttall2From:Broadcast: “Emperor of Lancashire” BBC 1979

The nation organises its functioning into separate areas.  London and the South East form the head - here are the offices and the council chambers, the accounting houses and the libraries, the two great universities, the face to be presented to strangers.  The dancing extremities are the Celtic hinterlands - here is the folklore, the idiosyncrasy and the poetry.

But the tripes, the guts, the root bodily functions are in the industrial North.  It is an endearing characteristic of the nation that it is frank with its functioning.   The plumbing shows, a rash of railways, cheap terrace housing, arrogant chimneys, mills and sweat shops, stations and wreckage yards, warehouses and sewerage beds, cover most of Lancashire and half of Yorkshire, an ostentatious defilement of the landscape, where the boss was a face not a trademark, and the extent of his wealth was to be gauged by the length of his factory’s excretory chimney.   The nation’s digestive system, its anal tract, is coiled across the Pennines, and dredges down across the desolate plain of West Lancashire to the Irish Sea.

nuttall3A Catalogue Note: exhibition at Abergavenny Museum, 1996:

“Since my retirement from teaching in 1984, I have been increasingly concerned with landscape.  I painted the Yorkshire landscapes between 1984 and 85.  They are shot through with graphic devices which attempt cartoon equivalents for a Pennine labyrinth of moors, steep valleys and Victorian industrial desolation.

They are composite works in which imagery absorbed in several experiences is composed into the same canvas, often with multiple viewpoints and several irregular horizons.  In hilly country there is often an horizon over your head, or a panorama below you with no horizon.  Often the land confronts you in a sheer wall.

I have long feared that my painting and sculpture had become secondary to my writing.  My retrospective in 1990, however, showed me that since my student days all my creative work, whether literary or visual, has been concerned with the same discord, the ecstatic violence which is detonated when nature and ethics meet.  Coming to Wales almost immediately after this exhibition, I found that the Black mountains and their foothills around Garway and Ewyas Harold provided me with the opportunity to synthesise a vocabulary of gross erotoicism with a full-blooded baroque romanticism.  My Black Mountains reliefs and the works on paper that accompany them are, indeed, landscape;  not viscera, not pornography and not wrestling pythons, but they do emphasise that geological and vegetable forms share shapes and parallel processes with animal (and human) digestion, gestation and reproduction, in a turbulence of decay, erosion and rebirth.   My work is intended as a celebratory prayer about these things and I hope this exhibition shows how, over the last decade, I have clarified this intention.”

nuttall4A Catalogue Note: “Dionysian Landscape”, Ebbw Vale, 1997

Shortly before moving to Abergavenny five years ago I visited Lulworth Cove in Dorset and made some drawings of the rock formations.  I was excited by the ways land had found forms at the time of its prehistoric turbulence that were exactly parallel to the forms that flesh and vegetation find in the processes of growth and decay.

I had previously used stuffed nylon to make anthropomorphic forms about the human body.  In Wales I found that the same material enabled me to make work about the Black Mountains and the Monnow Valley with a particular interest in the way the hills and the trees have a vigour and an ebullient energy which is the equivalent of the urgency of living things.  These are landscapes.  They do not depict gestation, digestion or reproduction but they do celebrate that all matter coming into being has the same gross force.

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