Belmont University’s Leu Art Gallery | June 30 – September 9
by Cat Acree
The apostrophe at the beginning of ‘Pataphysical Ponderings, the title of furniture artist and sculptor Craig Nutt’s summer exhibition at Belmont University, is no error. ‘Pataphysics, which Nutt describes as “the science of imaginary solutions,” includes this apostrophe to suggest the multitude of puns someone might catch if they heard the phrase in French, such as pas ta physique (“not your physics”).
From an ear of corn suspended as an airplane to chili peppers functioning as chair legs, Nutt’s work combines classic furniture forms and historical executions with crazy imagery, often inspired by his vegetable garden. Perhaps Nutt’s surreal, whimsical designs should be described as “not your furniture.”
‘Pataphysical Ponderings features works from more than four decades of Nutt’s career, tracing back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the 1970s and early 80s when he painted and made experimental music with the art collective Raudelunas. “The absurdity of [‘pataphysics] fits the zeitgeist of the time, of being outsiders,” says Nutt, who now lives in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. “It was a strange thing to be an artist there and then.”
Nutt first began woodworking in the 70s, when it was considered sacrilegious to put paint on wood furniture. But he couldn’t resist outrageous forms and the “insane” color combinations found in his own garden. “Furniture is anything but spontaneous,” Nutt explains, “but I was trying to figure out how to get that element of spontaneity into my work that I enjoyed in free-improvised music.”
Nutt’s garden palette is literally aflame in Burning, a loveseat with flaming asparagus back legs and chili-pepper arm rests. “There’s not a lot of difference between the forms of a leaf and a flame,” Nutt says. “The flames are also similar to the arabesques you would see on Rococo furniture and Rococo revival.”
Along with Nutt’s veggies, the exhibition will also showcase some of his more restrained works, such as Hung Jury, a sculpture of 12 wooden heads inspired by Sophie Taeuber’s Dada marionettes.
Nutt has just stepped down after a decade as the Director of Programs for the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), which helps educate artists on how to be proactive about protecting their careers. During Nutt’s tenure, the organization developed a curriculum for career protection that’s being taught in art schools around the country. “We’re hoping over time that it changes how artists approach their practice,” says Nutt.
This exhibition marks Nutt’s return to the studio full time. Says the artist, “Maybe some of this is just to figure out where I’m going from here.”
‘Pataphysical Ponderings is on view June 30 to September 9 in Belmont University’s Leu Art Gallery.