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Nobody does surrealism better than Nancy Witt. 

Alternate Reality

The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire bestowed on art the term "surrealism" in the early 20th century. From such rarefied Bohemian beginnings "surrealism" has become a household word, and it now describes an irrational but surprisingly sociable form of picture making. People who claim they don't generally "get" art can be observed enjoying surrealism and surrendering to it as a commercial force. It is kind of the charismatic old master of ceremonies to abstract thinking, a welcome mat of the subconscious — that murky place that fascinates us all.

Nobody paints surrealistically better than Nancy Witt. A showing of 16 of her recent paintings is on view at Cudahy's through April, along with some elegant raku vessels by her son David Camden.

Witt's signature style of painting integrates interior and exterior space, confusing the viewer regarding their exact whereabouts. The landscape as still life, the still life as landscape ... her paintings balance equally between those two classifications, while she arranges objects in momento mori fashion and releases them like uncaged birds to depart open windows and migrate into her private vista beyond. Her technique of organizing the picture plane like a dream that one suddenly plummets into when struggling to remain awake, begins immediately and intensely, often through tunnels and always at such close range that escape is not conceivable. The high-speed trip progresses through condensed layers of time toward a vanishing point in the horizon. Witt has insisted her viewer's awareness into her painting.

The captivation is secured by Witt's use of exquisite and uncanny detail. Bits of masking tape are so perfectly rendered in several of the works that they become, like many other carefully executed elements, keys to — or proof of — reality. If the masking tape, with its subtle air bubbles and carelessly torn edges, or a sensible cotton shirt, with its earnest suffused management of sunlight, can be trusted, than so must the rest of the altered environment that Witt promises with her paint.

Witt has several enduring motifs that she rearranges in countless ways: the ocean, the window, the artist's easel and the flower. All four represent vehicles of consciousness. They are each also a threshold in some form, offering a within and a without. And they are each inspirational but fickle in temperament.

Most of Witt's paintings are exactingly formal, rational and highly planned. Often dissected midway with a reference to the horizon, they are also generally balanced from left to right, if not actually symmetrical.

The paintings indicate a presence of numerical symbolism through Witt's groupings of objects. In grouping three objects, the spiritual agency of the Trinity can be perceived; in the number four, stability or the orderly arrangement of separate things is suggested.

Approaching organized religion rather more than mysticism, some of Witt's works offer an experience that is too rigorously structured and ritualized. The viewer may feel manipulated by this, or may respond to it as a need, or may enjoy the voyeuristic quality of it. This form of intellectual confinement is a part of the fascination and effectiveness of the work. Like so many heightened experiences or intense characters, their worst and best quality are often one and the same.

"The marvelous" is another of surrealism's terms. Originally coined by Andre Breton, it refers to a primal state of being outside of reason, which is conducive to revelation. Witt's richly executed paintings offer her spectators an organized tour of that
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