Untitled by Justin Nelson-Carruth

Gallery Stroll – January 2012


My reaction toward art trends in three responses:

The Aha!: Immediate approval, an emotional response stemming from pure delight in the aesthetics, color, composition and subject. The Huh: Used for very cerebral or symbolic work. I’m intrigued, and in most cases the work is still very pleasing to the eye, but has a deeper meaning––this artist wants to direct the dialogue. The Hmm: A beautiful image left completely unguided. In this case, I become the storyteller to the illustration, designing the characters, motives and conclusion.

No one response is better than the other, I have plenty of “hmm” artwork in my house, and one person’s “aha” could be another’s “huh,” which is why I love the monthly gallery stroll: plenty of art in every medium for every critic.

A recent “hmm” moment came when I viewed Justin Nelson-Carruth’s latest paintings, which will be on display beginning Jan. 23 through March 3 at the Sweet Branch Library at 455 F Street in the Salt Lake Avenues neighborhood. Nelson-Carruth’s story is one of a self-taught artist, navigating his way through processes and subjects to find his artistic expression.

His early video art is a surreal “trip”––it’s very ambiguous, dreamlike and avant-garde. While I enjoyed viewing them, we’ll call those his youthful efforts. Nelson-Carruth then moved to photography, but he found the nature of photography very mechanical and he wanted to leave a human mark and insert himself into the process by leaving marks, cuts or smudges on the negatives.

Nelson-Carruth’s current medium and show is a very mature effort. With evolution comes wisdom. A wise man knows that even though you know the story’s ending, you want a person to discover their own path to that end. The Sweet Branch Library is a perfect place for Nelson-Carruth’s work.

A place that houses great stories will house art that lets you create your own story. My sneak peak of the show included a beautiful painting of a female figure sitting by a window, bathed in a soft light, her expression out of focus, giving the viewer the opportunity to create the back story.

In my story, she’s a young woman enjoying the afternoon sunshine, sipping coffee and absorbing the latest New York Times best seller. She doesn’t need a boyfriend, but she has many suitors, and later she will go get ready for a date with one of them. Usually the title of a piece gives you some inclination of the artist’s intent, but Nelson-Carruth wants you to truly draw your own conclusion, so everything is left untitled, making you go “hmm.”

When artists present their work to the public, whether to their closest friends or art professionals, they wait with bated breath to see the reception––an approving smile or nod, the studious hand-to-the-face or arms crossed. The real death-blow to an artist is no response at all.

Art is meant to be viewed, which is why attending the monthly Gallery Stroll and artist reception is not only a treat for you, but vital to the survival of our vibrant art community. So go out and be your own critic, “hmm,” “huh” and “aha,” but mostly just enjoy the art!

For more from information on Justin Nelson-Carruth, check out Mariah’s Gallery Stroll segment on SLUG Magazine’s podcast Soundwaves.