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Toot and Toe

Jim Nutt


acrylic on Plexiglas, reverse painting

60 1/4" x 36 1/8"

In the early 1960s, Jim Nutt began reverse painting with acrylic on Plexiglas, an approach he had seen used by fellow Chicago Imagist artists Barbara Rossi, Ed Flood, and Karl Wirsum. Reverse paintings require that the artist paint on the back of a clear sheet of material by first laying out all the detailed lines and finishing with the larger areas of color. Nutt quickly realized just how unforgiving the technique is: acrylic paint dries rapidly, leaving little room to correct mistakes.

Undeterred, Nutt discovered some helpful tools, including a sign-painter’s brush, to produce works that feature bold, fluid lines and bright, glossy areas of color. Nutt’s approach starts with a drawing. Once he’s satisfied with it, he tapes it to the front of the Plexiglas and traces it on the reverse. An example of this type of drawing, called a “cartoon,” was used in the creation of Rosy Comon, a painting in the collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art; the cartoon itself is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In the reverse painting Toot and Toe, an animalistic man ascends through the air—his hands and feet are underdeveloped and deformed, his face dirty and topped with an elongated snout. Surrounded by musical notes, the word “toot” rests under his shriveled, blackened penis, suggesting he just passed gas. The grotesque realities of the human body are on full display: curly hairs, worm-like veins, bloody wounds, and blackened sores cover the pale, ghostly figure. Juxtaposed with the foul and offensive are sexy, floating icons of high heels, stockings, and garter belts. Nutt often pulled these images from the pages of shopping catalogs and magazines—as seen in the cartoon for the painting Rosy Comon—and traced them directly onto the Plexiglas surface. These images were not copied precisely, instead they served as a guide for Nutt’s ghoulish caricatures, which comment on the idealized and romanticized version of the human body presented in advertisements. The result is a fascinating array of images that absorb the viewer in the act of looking—transfixed by Nutt’s bizarre and humorous imagination.


Gift of Howard and Judith Tullman