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Crossing the threshold of Futzie Nuztle’s studio is entering the creative world of a man who tiptoed away from the social and famed scene he enjoyed for roughly thirty years in Santa Cruz, preferring seclusion and privacy in San Juan Bautista, a small town, less than an hour away from California central coast.
Nutzle is quiet when it comes to define his art but he has not strayed from his personal artistic quest. Now, at almost seventy years old, he has acquired a refreshing sense of auto-derision and cynicism that only come with a long life. His intense eyes, shadowed by thick eyebrows, shine with an equal mix of intelligence and warmth, curiosity and eagerness. Nutzle remains an enigma in the sense that he flirted with fame several times but fled it each time. He actually ran away from the generally accepted idea of work at a young age.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he lost his father during World War II and his mother remarried to a blue-collar Irish Catholic man. Nutzle recalls his childhood in the town of Fostoria where everybody worked either at one of the two automobile plants, at the foundry, at the slaughterhouse or at the spark plug plant, as the ignition point of his life long rejection of the blue-collar work model.
However, the dreamy boy who started drawing at the age of three, found beauty when he worked with iron at the foundry as an adolescent. He also understood the need for beauty in ugly places.
His early years in Santa Cruz, spent in the company of the two artists/friends henry humble and Spinny Walker, were in some way similar to most people’s daily lives. Every day, they drew and critiqued each other’s artwork while everyone else went to work somewhere for somebody. The three of them eventually created and launched The Balloon Newspaper in 1968. Issue after issue, the publication gained popularity and although the group disbanded in 1976, the amount of creativity and work put into the publication helped to create each artist’s style. Nutzle became the artist behind the minimalist black inked drawings published in every issue of Rolling Stone from 1975 to 1980, in Tokyo’s Japan Times from 1985 to the late 90s, in The Bay Guardian, and in Metro Santa Cruz, among others. After many years of absence from Santa Cruz, in 2011, the Cabrillo College Gallery exhibited Nutzle’s series of vases that he took to somewhat provocative social, cultural and political levels.
Meanwhile he worked on pastels and oil paintings representing the California missions. Anyone used to his more abstract and surreal artwork was surprised. “I’m moving from statement and cleverness,” Nutzle says. “To the purity of painting and spontaneity.” Perhaps the portraying of the missions only reflect the Ohio native’s emotional relationship with California, the state he considers home since 1965. And the elusive artist renders California’s landscape to the perfection through his plein-air type of painting. Four major colors evoke California: the blue of the sky and of the Pacific Ocean, the gold of the vegetation during dry season, turning green during rain season, and the earthy adobe of the early California architecture. These four colors are intricately woven in each of Nutzle’s missions and yet each canvas and pastel keeps a distinct uniqueness from one another. Painted at different times of the day, the missions are shown under California’s extraordinary light which varies so dramatically and yet so subtly over the course of a day. The whitish color of the adobe missions, that distinguishes them from any other religious building in the nation, appears bland in the work of most artists. Nutzle manages to show texture to the material and each mission becomes the main protagonist of its unique story. Movement defines California as much as color. Nutzle’s skilled brush and pastel chalk strokes render a gentle breeze dancing through the grass or a gust of wind blowing through the olive pepper trees.
The San Andrea Fault digs its way near Nutzle’s art studio, and runs along the base of the hill below the mission’s cemetery. In 1906, a violent earthquake shook Central California and destroyed the sidewalls of the mission. They were restored in 1976 as well as the original chapel and the well. Nutzle employs the new additions of architecture in a style that represents these vintage views. Futzie Nutzle spent three to five years drawing and painting the missions. His many pastels and oil paintings showcase them at different periods of time, under different views allowing the spectator to appreciate the history behind the missions of California. And of course, the talent of a man who is pursuing his solitary artistic journey, following his heart more than a trend.
Works from Nutzle have been or are currently shown at:
Publications from Futzie Nutzle: