by Marshall Fallwell, Jr.
Judy Nebhut is a photographer—nice equipment, including a Canon printer that houses the nine or ten tubs of ink necessary to produce more shades of gray than I can count. But Judy says she’s not a techie. I believe her—she’s too busy taking pictures and making prints the way she wants to. Upstairs, in her minimal office and flanked by her adequate but not cutting-edge equipment, are X racks of prints, matted and ready for the next show. As I walk my fingers through them, I realize that words like “nice” and “cutting-edge” don’t work to describe her art.At first glance, her images seem unassuming to the point of shyness. Utterly familiar objects and settings on pause in time. A bunch of white asparagus, oranges on plank shelves, figs and potatoes in bowls, apples on a tablecloth, white gourds, books wrapped neatly in newsprint. Still lifes, pure and simple.But then she teases you with satirical titles, as if her pictures are just for fun. Figs in a bowl titled In the Shade. Potatoes in a bowl, Add Butter. A sprawl of white gourds, Walk Softly. A bunch of asparagus on a Chinese stand, The Chop. Two oranges on a white linen cloth, Nothing More, Nothing Less.Titles almost riddles suggesting levels of meaning sure to provoke clever conversation at gallery openings, glass of white wine in hand. Lots of artists use titles cryptic or meaningless or satirical just to throw you off balance, but interpret these titles carefully, if at all, lest you say something too glib or Freudian or Greenbergian for what’s really going on in Nebhut’s pictures, or in her mind.
Another caveat. Some say Judy Nebhut’s pictures evoke serene memories of Vermeer, Cezanne—and they do, on a none-too-relevant level. But don’t stray too far down that path or you might succumb to the quicksand of comparative evaluation of artists, which is okay for high-school art class but ends up being no more than an exercise in taxonomy, Vermeer in this drawer, Chardin in that one.The revelations
begin as you free your mind of the futility of explication and you study the images on their own terms. Sure, the oranges are oranges and the figs are
figs, but, you boot yourself up, what she is offering is light itself, and who cares where it comes from? So that’s her secret. Could this polite, unassuming Nashville lady have discovered how to capture not things but light itself? And so gently. By comparison, even Edward Weston has a heavy hand.
Of course, ever since the abstract expressionists, artists have attempted to give expression to the idea of pure form by deleting content from the algorithm. But they have done so by drawing pictures of it, pictures of nothingness—non-representational shapes, blotches of color, even blank canvases. By banishing content, they have become obsessed with content, rubbing our and their own noses in it, all the while insisting that it’s simply not there.
Judy Nebhut may not even know she is something of a savant. As you stare and stare at Judy Nebhut’s pictures, you find yourself falling into the great stillness these pictures hold, which is in the light they emit.
Her grays and shadows mesmerize. Familiar things such as folds in a tablecloth take your breath away. The architectural angularity of the oranges and shelves, the mundane sheaf of white asparagus reveal themselves as nothing more than vessels leaving just the light and shadows they project as the true vision Nebhut shows us.
How? Not by pretending content isn’t there along with all its implications, but by ignoring content and whatever literal or symbolic substance it might have. How better to do that than by gentle misdirection—oranges qua oranges frivolously titled?—and then leading us through the looking glass to see what she has found. Judy Nebhut is represented by The Arts Company.