Clowns and pot plants abound in Santa Cruz art icon Futzie Nutzle’s latest exhibit
When it came time to put together his new 100-piece retrospective, “Creating the Path,” local art icon and former Rolling Stone cartoonist Futzie Nutzle went to the attic and dug out some oldies, some dating all the way back to the ’80s. The resulting collection of paintings, drawings, cartoons and assemblages—some funny, some poignant and some a combination thereof—can be seen now through Jan. 26 at the new R. Blitzer Gallery location inside of Westside Santa Cruz’ old Wrigley building. “It’s a remarkable collection of his work and a rare opportunity to see them all in this gallery space,” gallery owner Rob Blitzer states.
“The one difference in this show is that I really tried to concentrate on a title for each piece,” notes Nutzle, whose work was ubiquitous in Santa Cruz from the late ’60s into the ’90s. “I thought before that people had the foresight or the ability to interpret, and then I realized they don’t. They don’t have the time to interpret something, and they haven’t taught themselves, or haven’t been taught, to interpret things and process it in their own mind without some kind of guidance.”
Nutzle, who currently runs the San Juan Bautista antique shop, Fool’s Gold, with his wife Halina, says your guess is as good as his as to what the meanings behind his artistic creations are. “I think if there’s any difference between my work and others’, it’s that mine’s not based on a story—especially a story that’s already been told. I’m not really interested that much in mythology, and I’m not really interested that much in other people’s stories, and I’m really not interested at all in other people’s opinions. For me, it’s entirely personal.”
While pieces like “Tarbaby” and “After the War” appear to be politically inspired, Nutzle says that even these are free of storylines and opinions. “If it is political, again, the interpretive value comes up, because I’m not trying to be on a particular side—Republican or Democrat or whatever,” he offers. “That’s really old hat. In my opinion, we’ve come to this mother-may-I society where people that love each other can’t really get married unless we ask permission; we can’t smoke a joint unless we ask permission. I’m really tired of that shit. It’s just so antiquated, and it’s so unprogressive and square and terrible, and people are sitting in jail for no reason. If I had a message, that’s kind of what this show is about: the idea of having to get permission to do everything.”
“Creating the Path” contains a proliferation of what Nutzle refers to as his “weed paintings”—yes, paintings that depict pot plants. The artist says that attendees of the exhibit’s Dec. 7 opening night event stood in front of some of these paintings, comparing stories of their pot busts.
Another persistent image in this exhibit is that of a clown, as in the delightful “The Clown Detector,” a portrait of a clown being probed by a machine that’s testing to see if he’s a real clown or not. “I’m kind of a clown myself,” Nutzle explains. “I’m kind of a bozo. I don’t really have it all together. The clown is like a nobody, and yet he demands attention constantly.”
Nutzle says one of the pieces from this exhibit that evokes a strong emotional feeling from him is “Enigma,” which depicts a man out in the middle of the ocean, “maybe on top of—I don’t know if it’s a log or a big brush, or something out there. But it’s foreboding, and that’s me out there.” He adds that this image comes from the experience of “being an artist and living the studio life, not trying to be anything else. That’s probably the hardest part about being an artist: being an artist.”
The artist says “Enigma” isn’t an extension of any emotions he was feeling at the time he created it. “My feelings don’t really change that much when I’m painting,” he claims. “I’m just trying to portray something. It takes so much energy to paint that you really can’t spend emotional time getting all wrapped up in that. It’s almost a two-stage process where you nail the aesthetic, and then you take a step back. And then, if you have some kind of emotion, that’s cool. If not, better take it to the dumpster.”
Futzie Nutzle’s “Creating the Path” is on display now through Jan. 26 at the R. Blitzer Gallery, 2857 Mission St., Santa Cruz. For more information, visit rblitzergallery.com, or call 458-1217. Photos: Futzie Nutzle