‘New York Paper’ is unique, fresh and a bit strange

The "New York Paper" exhibition, open Jan. 31 -Feb. 24 at the University Art Gallery, features the work of Brian Novatny and Jennifer Nuss, two Master of Fine Arts graduates from Yale. Both artists live and work in New York.

Upon entering the University Art Gallery, you are presented with a choice straight out of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book: proceed to the left and start with the oversized paper canvases of Jennifer Nuss, or proceed to the right and start with the myriad of radical illustrations by Brian Novatny.

I let fate be my guide and proceeded to the right.

On the wall to the far-right hang several different works from Novatny's "Wall Installation #1-70" collection.

Like snowflakes, no two illustrations are alike, as mixed media is the theme of the overall display.

Some figures reminded me of celebrities or political figures but with something distorted about them, be it an elongated face or off-putting eye.

The beings ranged from eerie to prestigious, while the execution of the illustrations ranged from inks to charcoal. You could start from either left-to-right or from right-to-left and it wouldn't have mattered; the staggered placement upon the wall worked both ways, and highlighted the many different artistic stylings of Novatny.

On the opposite walls were smaller groupings of his different works, whether it was "Horses," "Creatures" or "Men in Boats," each differed from the last in both style and substance used.

"Men in Boats," continued with the mixed media motif, and it was aesthetically pleasing to see Novatny dabble in both watercolors and inks when bringing the men and their vessels to life.

There was even a slightly bizarre take on Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware," which was still recognizable even though it was slightly skewered and muddled in some parts.

My favorite collection of his was "Horse (ink) #1-6" because it looked like Salvador Dalí's take on Disney animation.

Each horse looked to be surgically modified with parts found in a junkyard and yet pined to be put out of their misery.

Could it be a statement about beat-up racing horses being put out to pasture?

Possibly, although none of Novatny's collections came across to me as having an agenda hidden away in the inks but rather a cool experimental macabre of sorts.

Transition into Jennifer Nuss' gallery and immediately it becomes apparent that both artists have completely different styles from one another. /span>

It made for a refreshing change of pace, for Nuss' works focus more on telling stories. To have both artists with similar styles would have eventually made for a rather tiresome exhibit, when in reality it was anything but.

Nuss' canvases are gigantic pieces of gouache on collaged Japanese paper, which appear to be almost quilt-like in design.

The works on display seemed to have been pulled from the different series they were a part of, but at the same time there were common themes in every piece.

The beings that Nuss paints, the "Goat Girls," are intricate in style, with the smallest of hairs still visible from several feet away.

The women she illustrates look almost primitive, as if they are still one with nature with their grass skirts, their crowns of flowers and chimpanzee-like hands and feet.

In the piece "The Amazing Plastic Ladies," the Goat Girls are stacked three-high, as if a part of a traveling circus in their blue and white outfits.

At the top of the Goat Girl totem pole resides a majestically bearded Goat Girl, looking wise beyond her years as she remains perfectly still atop her sisters shoulders.

In my favorite piece by Nuss, "Shedding," we see a Goat Girl with a once mighty bushy crown, which appears to have wilted away as she spews forth a tree that looks like it is made of jellyfish.

I enjoy the idea of a jellyfish tree, for its large bulbous leaves captivated me so. Was this Goat Girl shedding her primal instincts, and perhaps evolving somehow to the next level? Only to suddenly regret her decision to shed in the first place?

It was rather enjoyable to ponder while observing, and not coming to a concrete conclusion.

Both Brian Novatny and Jennifer Nuss have drastically different art styles and yet something for everyone to enjoy.

I found myself entranced when moving from one gallery to the next, admiring their works from afar.

From the experimental to the extremely colorful, Sonoma is very fortunate to bask in the glory of both Novatny and Nuss.